Dr. Shahid Munir
At present, the people are facing severe loadshedding/blackout problems due to shortage of power supply. Industries are closing down. Millions of Man hours have been lost leading to an increase in poverty and economic loss of billions of rupees to the country.
It is happening despite the facts that about 60% of Pakistan’s population has an access to electricity. And according to World Energy Statistics 2011, published by IEA, Pakistan’s per capita electricity consumption is one-sixth of the World Average. World average per capita electricity Consumption is 2730 kWh compared to Pakistan’s per capita electricity consumption of 451kWh.
It is imperative to understand the crises. According to Pakistan Energy Year Book 2011, Pakistan’s installed capacity for power generation is 22,477MW and the demand is approximately the same. The question arises that if the demand and supply has no gap then why we are facing such a crucial electricity crises. To get the answer we need to look into Pakistan’s electricity generation mix fuel wise. Unfortunately, oil & gas has 67% share in electricity generation. Pakistan is generating 35% of its electricity from furnace oil that is mostly imported. Pakistan spends over 12 billion US dollars for the import of furnace oil high speed diesel and crude petroleum that amount is equivalent to 60% of total export earnings and is a serious strain on country’s economy. It was recorded that in year 2011, the import of furnace oil increased by 19% compared to 2010 import. Moreover, the imported furnace oil is high sulphur furnace oil because low sulphur furnace oil is costly. The gaseous emissions from High sulphur furnace oil are polluting the environment and deteriorating the power plants as well. The bitter fact is that the per unit cost of electricity generated from imported furnace oil is high and is expected to increase further due to high forecasted increase in the oil prices. The per unit price of the electricity generated from furnace oil is neither viable for industrial consumers nor for domestic consumers.
At the same time, Pakistan is generating 32% of its electricity from Natural Gas. According to Pakistan Energy Year Book, 2011, Pakistan has 27.5trillion cubic feet (TCF) balance recoverable gas reserves. Current gas production is 4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) and the demand is 6 bcfd. The gas production is expected to fall to less than 01 bcfd by 2025 due to depletion and demand will increase to 8 bcfd. While depleting the indigenous natural gas reserves, about one third of the natural gas is used for electricity generation (32%) causing a severe domestic and industrial load shedding. That has significantly damaged country’s export earnings and increased the import bill.
The proposed Iran gas pipeline would provide only 01 bcfd at a cost of $ 1.25 billion. The proposed TAPI gas pipeline would provide 3.2 bcfd to 3 countries at a cost of $ 7.6 billion. In response to a demand of 8 bcfd, we will be having 3 bcfd in 2025 if both proposed are completed. The gap will be 5 bcfd. The available gas will have 66% share of costly imported gas.  In the light of above elucidated facts, it is evident that it will not be possible to feed gas based power plants in future that contribute 32 % of the power generation. In the light of above discussion, it is evident that electricity generated from Oil and gas is not an economically feasible option and the installed capacity of about 15000MW (67%) out of 22477MW would not be operational. International Energy Agency has forecasted that total electricity demandof the country will be 49078MW in 2025.This is a great challenge to enhance the installed capacity to 50000MW from 7000MW.
Currently, Pakistan is generating 6481 MW of electricity from hydel sources that is 29% of the total installed capacity. If country completes all the proposed hydel projects including Bhasha Dam, the hydel contribution would be 15000MW until 2025 that is 29%.
The biggest challenge is to redesign the electricity portfolio and substitute the oil and gas with an abundantly available indigenous fuel source. Pakistan must develop indigenous energy resources to meet its future electricity needs. Pakistan can overcome this energy crisis by utilising its un-used coal reserves. Coal is a game changer for Pakistan.
Currently, 40.6% of world’s electricity is being generated from coal and it is the single largest contributor in world electricity generation. By looking at the electricity generation mix of the countries that are blessed with coal, it is evident that coal is the largest contributor. For instance, Poland, South Africa, China, India, Australia ,Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Germany, USA,UK, Turkey , Ukraine and Japan are generation 96%, 88%,78%, 78%, 77%, 72%, 69.9%, 52.5%, 52%, 37%, 31.3%, 27.5% and  22.9% of electricity from coal. Pakistan is the only country that is blessed with 185 billion tons of coal and is producing negligible electricity from coal 0.6%). Thar deposit alone is estimated to be 175 billion tons. It is further estimated that if all the Thar coal is extracted out and converted into electricity through coal fired power plants, it can provide 100,000MW for more than 500 years. There is a dire need to devise a strategy to utilise Thar Coal for power generation. Centre for Coal Technology Punjab University has conducted analysis of 328 samples of coal from all four provinces and AK including Thar coal. A substantial amount of coal in Punjab, Balochistan, KPK, AK and Sindh has high sulphur and ash content that is a challenge to utilise this coal for power generation. All the analysis carried out since 1994 to 2012 by G Couch, geological survey of Pakistan, Oracle coal fields, Centre for coal technology show that Thar coal has a sulphur content up to 1% that is the beauty of this coal that makes it suitable for direct combustion for power generation.
At UK-Pakistan coal conference where CEO of world association for Underground coal gasification (UCG ) Julie Lauder and Robert Davidson of International Energy Agency gave presentations and informed the audience that UCG is still in experimentation stage and pilot operations are being carried out at various locations but UCG syn gas is not being used commercially yet. The experimentation is going on since 1928 for the coals that are deeper than 300 meters and not minable. Let me make it clear that I am not against UCG as a technique. My considered opinion is that Thar geology is against the pre-requisites for UCG.  Here are some concerns regarding UCG of Thar Coal:
1. The geological structure of Thar block three has been published by geological survey of Pakistan. This structure is against the fundamentals of Underground gasification (UCG) given in every book. First condition for UCG is that the coal should be 300 metre or more deep. Where as in Thar the coal seams are present at a depth of 150 meter. Secondly, there should be no water around the deposit whereas Thar coal is immersed in water. The aquifer above the coal zone is  at about 120 m.then a strata of sand stone and clay stone.The water table ranges between 52.70 to 93.27 meter depth. Right below the first coal zone, there are two to three perched aquifers that are aquifers within coal zone with sand horizons of medium to coarse grains. According to experts, the water can also be used for irrigation.Then after the coal seams, a deep aquifer at 200m depth is present. This aquifer is a source of water for tube wells installed in Thar.
2.       Moreover, all the analysis carried out by various organisations at different times show that coal itself contains about 46% moisture in it.
3.      For complete burning of coal in UCG, a temperature of 1000C is required. It is anticipated that the temperature will not be maintained at 1000 C due to 46% moisture leading to an incomplete burning of coal. The volatile matter will burn and FC content / the most valuable component may remain un-burnt leading to a very low HV gas.
4.      About one year ago, Dr. M. Saleem (a member of Dr. Samar Team) predicted that the syn gas obtained will have a calorific value of 106 BTU/cubic foot. Now they claim that they have obtained a gas but have not declared the calorific value yet.This claimed HHV is one-tenth of Natural gas. Due to high moisture content, it would be lower than this claimed value.
5.      It is expected to yield production of very low – grade and uneconomic syn gas, bearing high proportions of water vapours, carbon dioxide and sulphureted.
6.      The gas with such a low heating value cannot be linked with the national   grid. On 25th July, 2012 Dr. Samar briefing Standing Committee on Information Technology said that gas companies have refused to buy this gas.
7.      If the heat contained in 46% moisture, compressors energy consumption, energy  required for carbon dioxide removal, water removal, H2S, (Hydrogen Sulphide) HCN (Hydrogen Cyanide) removal, tar removal and other operational energy consumption is subtracted from the per unit syngas net heating value (that is vital for power generation) will be further lowered.
8.      As the gasification proceeds, 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 un used air.
9.      The sulphur content in the Thar coal will generate H2S (Hydrogen Sulphide) during gasification leading to  an environmental catastrophe in Thar as a result of   poisonous gases like H2S  (Hydrogen Sulphide) and HCN  (Hydrogen Cyanide) from the UCG chambers to the surface through the very loose overlying strata and through newly developed or pre-existing cracks etc.
10.  There will possibly be contamination of underground water so precious in Thar area, with poisonous chemicals originating from the burn chambers.
11.  Proper scrutiny of Thar coal project is missing. One cannot find  the models  of the Thar UCG operation especially the reaction kinetics, heat transfer, gas flow etc ?that are fundamental for every project.
12.  For UCG research, experts are of the opinion that the location allotted block V is not a right location because to stop the operation will not be easy and that can destroy the entire deposit. It should have been an isolated location. On the basis  above stated concerns, Production of very low – grade and uneconomic syn gas, bearing high proportions of water vapours, carbon dioxide and sulphurated hydrogen due to high water and sulphur contents of the Thar coal is expected.
The scope of Dr. Samar Mubarak Mand project was to generate electricity. But after claimed trials, he is now trying to give a new lolly pop to the nation that Diesel and methanol will be produced from Thar coal gas. The question is that India, China and USA and all other countries are generating electricity from coal why they are not producing methanol and diesel? Can you tell the nation how much percentage of global coal is used for these obsoleted routes compared to the coal used for power generation? Pakistan has about 83 sugar mills and methanol can be produced as by product of sugar at much cheaper rate with very little investment compared to the coal route suggested by Dr. Samar.  Being a coal technologist and chemical process technologist I can warn that without knowing the process details, economics and economies of scale, a nuclear- political scientist is misleading the nation.
If UCG of Thar is a wise option, why  commercial organisations like Sindh Engro coal Mining Company, Oracle coal field, UK and Global Mining, China are  opting open pit mining at Thar. Definitely, any profit making organisation that believes in “no free lunch” will go for tested commercial technologies. Only a group of retired hit and trial masters from various fields other than coal can afford this luxury on state expenses.
Currently,8142 trillion watt hour of electricity is being generated from world coal. Out of which how much is generated from UCG? The answer is zero. In response to my post UK-PK coal conference statement of Dr .Samar Mubarak Mand’s lobby through a journalist managed a news item against me in Daily News on 23rd July, 2012. I strongly condemn the highly objectionable language he used. Instead of presenting his view point he tried for character assassination. He declared me as an American agent because I have technically exposed them. I understand that Dr. Samar and his fellows who get heavy  Financial benefits from Thar UCG project  consider everyone as their personal enemy who criticize the Thar UCG project honestly. Dr. A.Q Khan raised questions on Thar UCG project and declared that Dr Samar intellectually dishonest. Is he an American Agent? Now a days, Dr. Samar Mubarak Mand is running PPP Election Campaign to get heavy funds released. Despite the appearance of Dr. Samar in PPP media campaign on TV for next elections, Federal Minister for water and power Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar has stated in a TV talk show “Awam ki Adalat” on Geo TV dated 15-07-2012 that there is no truth in Dr. Samar’s claims. Is he an American Agent?  Dr. Shahid Naveed, Dean of Engineering, University of Engg& Tech Lahore has similar views on Thar UCG project. Is he an American agent? Daily The Nation in its editorial on 11 august 2012, wrote that Dr Mubarakmand’s has been the lone voice in the country advocating the idea and demanded  a team of world class experts to do a feasibility study, covering technical as well as financial aspects prior to pour huge investment in this project that is what I have   pointed out. What. The senior journalist with so-called solid knowledge should learn the art of investigation based journalism and note that I have doctorate in the area of coal technology from UK and many international research publications in high impact factor journals are on my credit. I am not an alien in the field of coal technology like Dr. Samar Mubarak Mand. As far as the Angren project is concerned, no doubt it’s one of the oldest UCG site but IEA still ranked it as “pilot project”. It is an admitted fact that UCG as a technique is still not a commercial technology. My considered opinion is that opening pit mining is the right strategy to extract coal. Once the coal is in our hands, there will be many invertors for the establishment of coal-fired power generation plants and our beloved country would enjoy 100000MW cheaper electricity for five hindered years.
The writer is the Professor & Director of Centre for Coal Technology, University of the Punjab, Lahore.