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Attaining energy security through coal

Coal is back but with application of Clean Coal Technologies which augers well for Pakistan, this was the clear message shared at the 40th International Pittsburgh Coal Conference held in Istanbul October 4-6, 2023. My paper titled; ‘Experience of SNG Production from Thar Coal in Pakistan’ was well received by the experts. After investing over “$5 trillion” in research for transition to Carbon free energy there is a realization that for the base load it is still required. New concepts like Low Carbon Pathway, Coal beyond Combustion, Coal Value Chain have emerged. Gasification of Coal is the way forward. India plans to convert 100 MTY (Million Tons per Year) of the Black Gold into gas for multiple uses. The National Institute of Clean and Low-Carbon Energy (NICE) in China succeeded in producing multiple products after Gasification. While combustion is being phased out, this important energy resource is here to stay till a better option is developed to share the base load.

With its 175 billion tons of coal at Thar in Pakistan is well placed to meet its energy needs through the development of ‘Clean Coal Based Energy System’. While in the year 1952 it was the discovery of Sui Gas at Dera Bugti in Balochistan. At 12 TCF (Trillion Cubic Feet) it was considered one of the largest deposits of the world; today, Thar has this unique distinction. In a world driven by technology, energy security plays a key role in economic stability; it also strengthens the internal frontiers of the nation which have been long missing. Affordable/sustainable energy is the way forward.

In the year 2002, an Energy Foresight Committee was formed by the Planning Commission (PC). As Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation I was entrusted with the task of evaluating the coal potential as an energy resource for the country. Till that time Pakistan remained an energy surplus nation mainly because of the Sui deposit. After a brainstorming session with the professionals in the field it was decided that the first challenge was the mining at Thar to extract the Black Gold that lay underneath. I visited the friendly Muslim country of Bosnia that had several coal-fired plants producing inexpensive power. Dr Akram Sheikh, the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission (PC), agreed to provide funds to start mining of the much needed fuel. Unfortunately, the then Mining Minister in Sindh was not supportive. Several vested interests also jumped in to hijack the project with unfounded myths such as ‘coal is unsuitable as it has high sulphur and moisture contents’. In reality, at 1% it is a lower sulphur deposit, moisture can be drastically reduced by exposure to sun (down to 10 from 40%). Then last year as consultant to the Sindh Energy we started a project for Gasification. Samples were shipped to experts in South Africa where experiments and complete characterization were carried out. Thar coal is suitable for gasification, which is the way forward for the use of coal in the 21st century.

With this huge energy resource at a shallow depth of about 150 meters, Pakistan is well placed to meet all its energy needs. After gasification several products can be produced from this gift of nature. The North Dakota Gasification Company produces SNG, Ammonium Sulphate, Anhydrous Ammonia, Carbon Dioxide, Dephenolized Cresylic Acid, Diesel Exhaust Fuels, Krypton, Xenon gases, Liquid Nitrogen, Naptha, Phenol, Tar Oil, and Urea. China is producing Olefins, LNG and Diesel. India is producing 50 percent of power by burning coal. With two functional mines at Thar currently 6000 MW of power is being generated inexpensively at Rs8 per unit compared to the average of about Rs30 based on imported fuel.

With its massive gas transmission and distribution network, gas is being imported for distribution at a much lower price, creating circular debt. With the ever-rising international gas prices ($20 mmbtu) the gas is un-affordable. With gasification of Thar coal this cost can be drastically reduced ($8 mmbtu). Pakistan today produces unaffordable power and gas. Circular debts continue to spiral. Needless to say, energy security, affordability and sustainability are vital for the nation to move forward.

Farid Malik, "Attaining energy security through coal," Business recorder. 2024-01-07.
Keywords: Economics , Coal technologies , Energy security , Gas prices , Dr. Akram Sheikh , Pakistan , India , China , South Africa , NICE , LNG , SNG , PC

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