The good bad fuel
The Thar Coal reserves, near Islamkot, were officially announced in 1992 after their discovery in 1989. At 9.75 billion tonnes, the reserves are amongst the biggest in the world, But as a contrasting fact, Pakistan has the least energy dependence on coal. The energy obtained from coal is only 9 percent, while only 0.1 percent is utilized for power generation.
The Thar Coal Gasification project is an endeavour by the Planning Commission of Pakistan to convert the underground coal of Tharparkar into coal gas. This industrial process is termed as Underground Coal Gasification ( USG). The USG method is applied to non-mining areas like Thar, where traditional mining methods cannot be used. Oxidants are injected into the ground to bring the product gas to the surface through production wells drilled from the top.
Underground coal gasification allows access to coal resources that are not economically recoverable by other technologies and are too deep, low grade or have seams that are too thin. Expert estimates reveal that UCG methods can increase recoverable coal reserves plus UCG capital and operating costs are lower than those of traditional mining.
Capital investment in a UCG-based power generation system is about one dollar per KWH for small plants of less than 100 MW and about 0.8 dollar per KWH for larger plants of 500 MW capacities. Electricity production from these plants costs between Rs. 3.5 to Rs. 4.5 per unit. Therefore, the electricity produced from Thar coal deposits is being anticipated to be cheap and will be produced at a constant level during the whole year. Further, seasonal dependence, as in the case of hydel power plants, is also avoidable in this case.
According to nuclear scientist, Dr Samar Mubarakmand, the Thar coal deposit has the potential to transform Pakistan into a self-sufficient and energy-surplus country in eight to 10 years. It can produce 50,000 MW of electricity for decades and 100 million barrels of oil for 500 years. To simplify the figures to relate with the energy needs of Pakistan, he also says that only one percent of the total Thar coal deposit could produce 10,000 MW of electricity for 30 years and about 100 million barrels of diesel.
The Thar coal deposit is divided in 8 blocks, out of which four have been allocated to private companies from Australia, UAE, UK and Pakistan’s Engro, which is in an advanced stage of arranging financing for the coal development, gasification and establishment of power plants. A number of power companies are interested in setting up their power plants for commercial utilization of coal as the initial phases of the project are completed successfully.
The government has already announced an incentive package for coal development envisaging exemption from taxes and import duties for 30 years on import of coal mining and construction machinery. The scope of the project is not limited to district Tharparkar and has been broadened to explore coal deposits in various areas of Punjab, KPK, Balochistan, Fata, Northern Areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
For the handling and purification of coal gas produced in Tharparkar, a new project called ‘ Creation of New Processing Facilities’ has been approved by the Central Development Working Party ( CDWP). Also, under public-private partnership, Engro is using the best available equipment to minimize environmental degradation.
The gas produced from Thar coal can be used for: • Synthesis of liquid fuels • Manufacture ammonia and fertilizers • Production of synthetic natural gas • Production of hydrogen for use in hydrogen fuel cells According to Ajaz Ali Khan, Secretary Coal and Energy Development Department, Sindh, despite being called dirty fuel, Thar coal is the future of Pakistan and the resource must be utilized to the best advantage of the country