Here are some recommendations. First, the oil and gas based power plants that can produce 15,000MW of electricity should be modified to coal-fired power stations. Their furnaces and boilers should be replaced with pulverised coal-fired furnaces and boilers. The key point is that these installations should be designed on lignite coal-firing basis with the specifications similar to the coal that is available in Thar. Thar coal is ideally suited for power generation having less than one percent sulphur; its high moisture content can be reduced by natural drying. The task of modification can be achieved within two years. Initially, we can import coal of the grade similar to Thar coal and use in these power plants, until the Thar coal is extracted. I have already rejected the idea of Thar coal underground coal gasification and explained in my article, entitled “Thar Coal: the game changer”, published in “The Nation” of September 3, 2012, Pakistan should use tested and proven commercial technology of open pit mining, rather than hit and trial experimentation on underground coal gasification (UCG). The geology of Thar is not suitable for UCG at all due to the presence of water aquifers above and in-between coal seams. As gasification proceeds, the cylindrical gasification channels gradually turn into cone shaped cavities prone to the underground water influx, the water seepage from the upper aquifer will continue leading to further decrease in temperatures inside the chambers resulting further incomplete burning and yielding much lower HV gas, along with unused air and reduced methane content. Second, the UCG is expected to yield very low calorific value, uneconomic coal gas bearing higher proportions of water vapours, carbon-dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. Such a low heating value coal gas can neither be linked with national grid, nor run turbines. We have wasted four years in trying the UCG technology and should waste more. Moreover, it is advised to be vigilant about India’s designs concerning Thar coal and not allow Indian companies to engage in the extraction process at all. Already India has stopped natural flow of our rivers and diverted it to damage our economy. Its involvement in the Thar coal project would negate the concept of energy security and Pakistan cannot afford it. Ventures with Australia and China are much better options for the open pit mining of Thar coal. Third, after the 18th Amendment, the provinces can produce their own electricity. KPK can invest in the construction of small dams under liberal public-private partnership policy. Balochistan can invest in modern coal mining, coal upgradation and power generation. Punjab should get lease of at least one block in Thar and proceed for open pit mining to extract coal out, which can feed the coal to coal-fired power plants in the province for many decades. This strategy will not only enhance industrial growth, but also increase the rate of industrialisation.Fourth, Pakistan is 5th largest producer of sugarcane in the world. It has approximately 24 million tons of bagasse and 22 million tons of cotton stalk that can generate about 3,000MW of electricity. Sugar mills produce their own electricity from bagasse during the sugarcane season. I would recommend that these biomasses should be co-fired with coal for electricity generation in sugar mills. The first advantage associated with co-firing is that electricity will be generated throughout the year, instead of just four to five months. Secondly, 100 percent firing of bagasse or cotton stalk result in slagging and fouling on boiler surfaces reducing its efficiency. Co-firing of sugarcane bagasse or cotton stalk with coal reduces slagging and fouling rate. Thirdly, during experimentation on 20kw rig, I found if Pakistani bagasse or cotton stalk is co-fired with coal, using air-staging or fuel staging (distribution of required air or fuel at different furnace locations during combustion), it reduces oxides of nitrogen, sulphur and carbon yielding clean energy.Fifth, according to IEA in 2025, Pakistan will be in need of 49,078MW to meet the electricity demand. To generate 31,508MW (64.2 percent of 49,078MW) until 2025, it needs four lakh tons of coal per day for which a huge mining activity and infrastructure is required.Sixth, for the realisation of Pakistani coal in all the provinces other than Thar coal, tunnel mining will be carried out for which a different kind of infrastructural development is needed. In the past, Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s government hired an Australian company, SNOWDEN, for the estimation of coal in Punjab. The Centre for Coal Technology has been associated with this study to evaluate the quality of coal. According to SNOWDEN’s report, Punjab has at least 600 million tons of Bituminous D grade coal. This implies that it is sufficient to generate 5,000MW for 20 years. It has declared this coal suitable for power generation. In this regards, our bottleneck is mining. Electricity cannot be generated unless coal is extracted. Currently, we don’t have the capacity, technology and skills to do so. To deal with these issues, it is proposed to develop at least 10 models mines (with state-of-the-art technology) at different locations to educate the lessee. These mines can be developed with the technical assistance of advanced countries having rich experience of coal mining. The lessee should be made bound to use the technology, procedures and practices demonstrated in model mines. It is also imperative to ensure the rights of the miners. Seventh, the challenges associated with Pakistani coal other than Thar coal is higher sulphur and ash content. It is advised to establish coal washing plants to upgrade coal. By water washing, sulphur and ash content can be lowered significantly. This will enable us to use local coal in coal-fired power plants by blending with coal having low sulphur and ash content.Eighth, for the transportation of four lakh tons of coal per day to the power plants at various locations to generate the much needed 31,508MW until 2025, a strong coal supply chain management system will be required. For this purpose, there is a need to increase the role of the Punjab Mineral Company. For this, the role of NLC and Pakistan Railways would be crucial.Ninth, the government should establish coal silos for storage and blending outside the coal-fired power plants along with coal testing laboratories to ensure regular supply of coal with specific specifications to the power plants. Tenth, the initiation of two mega hydel dams, open pit mining at Thar, above stated projects for coal mining, washing plants, supply and blending in Punjab, Balochistan and KPK, can generate about 1.5 million jobs for the youth in the power sector. Also, Pakistan will be able to generate cheaper electricity, resulting a decrease in the cost of production leading to expansion in industrialisation.Finally, it is estimated that 40 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas is trapped as tight and shale gas. There is a need to extract and process these gases. The relevant Ministry should take necessary steps to harness this resource. The development of infrastructure, processing and utilisation of cheaper indigenous energy resources like coal, tight gas and shale gas will generate tremendous employment opportunities for our people. All that is needed is leadership and political will.
nThe writer is professor and director at the Centre for Coal Technology, University of the Punjab, Lahore.