The good bad fuel

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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

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