LAHORE – Dr Farid A Malik, the ex-chairman of Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF), has advocated the use of standard and commercially feasible technology to consume the world’s single largest reserves at Thar for the benefit of the country, instead of the underground coal gasification (UCG) method being suggested by Dr Samar Mubarak Mand.

Talking to TheNation, the mining engineer said the UCG method was developed for the use of small pockets of coal deposits that were not mineable and there was not a single country where the method was being used for energy production on commercial basis.

“Open pit and shaft mining are the two common methods being used in the world for consumption of coal,” he informed. The same methods were suggested by him and some other engineers in 2009 when the then government had planned to utilise the Thar coal. But Dr Mand, at that time, had put his idea of UCG before the government and given guarantee for the success of the project within three months, said Dr Malik.

“Instead of three months, three years have passed and Dr Mand has done nothing but wasted Rs2 billion of the national exchequer,” he held. Dr Malik said he discussed Dr Mand’s claim with renowned mining experts at different international conferences but none of them was in favour of the UCG. When asked that Dr Samar says the powerful oil lobby is creating hindrances in the development of the Thar coal project, he said he also believed that some powers were working against the interests of the country and that was why he was also strongly advocating the utilisation of Thar coal in the benefit of the people of Pakistan.

“The country has 184 billion tons coal reserves worth $20 trillion. The reserves are the single largest in the world. We can produce 480 billion barrels oil from this coal, equivalent to the joint oil reserves of Iran and Saudi Arabia,” said Dr Malik.

Answering a question that some 50,000MW are being generated in the world through the UCG, Dr Farid said the electricity had been generated on pilot basis, not on commercial basis. “What I am saying is that the UCG is a failed idea for commercial production,” he stressed.

What the country needed was the immediate start of test mining process at Thar coal and about $20 million was required to prepare the feasibility, Dr Malik maintained. “After we had prepared the feasibility, the investors across the world would be willing to invest in the Thar coal project,” he believed.

“Had we started the same process in 2009, when it was put before the Planning Commission, we would have been saved enough energy to cater to our needs,” he argued. Dr Mand should have shown the people at least a sample of one ton of coal if he was true in his claim, Dr Malik challenged.

The ex-chairman of PSF said it was high time to start mining. “The government should establish an independent mining company such as the SNGPL, SSGC or PSO, with all the professionals on board,” he suggested. The government must also conduct audit of funds spent so far on the project because they was paid by the people of Pakistan, held Mr Malik, adding that Dr Mand should now end the confusion about the development of this vital energy resource.

Giving reference of an international conference on ‘Under Ground Coal Gasification’ held in London on May 2, Dr Malik said the experts suggested that the Thar coal project should be developed using the standard and commercially viable technologies and the UCG process was still not a commercially viable technology and at least five years away from application. “Only pilot plants are being run all over the world. Power generation using the Thar coal reserves is a commercial venture subject to audit and review,” he stressed. Dr Malik said that since he had been involved in the Thar coal project, digging for coal was the only logical way to proceed as was being done the world over.