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Coal Gasification: India’s Clean Energy Alternative?

Coal is the major fuel powering energy demands of India with about 56.9% share in the energy mix as of 2018. Efforts to switch to other renewable or greener sources of energy are in process but lot of technological challenges and supply issues still need to be addressed. Until then efficient ways to harness the energy of coal need to be looked into.

Thermal Power Plant

According to data from the Ministry of Coal, Govt. of India, total coal reserves in India as of March 2018 stand at 319.04 billion tonnes.

India mined 310.5 Metric tonnes of coal in 2018, but also imported around 141.7 Metric tonnes that year. Two major reasons of the large coal import are the high ash content of Indian coal and economic non-viability of large reserves of 88.6 billion tonnes of non-metallurgical coal which is at a depth of 300-1,200 meters. Therefore, the Government is considering coal gasification as a suitable option that will not only help in exploring these untapped resources but also get maximum output from the mined coal.

What is Coal Gasification?

Coal gasification is the process of converting coal into Synthesis gas (also called Syngas) by reaction with high-pressure steam. It is a mixture of Hydrogen (H2), Carbon monoxide (CO) and Carbon-dioxide (CO2). This whole process, when carried underground by tapping pipelines in the coal reserves is called Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) and when coal is mined to the surface it is Surface Coal Gasification (SCG).

Syngas can not only replace coal but in future it could also replace costly imported petroleum and natural gas for vehicles. The surface coal reserves when used to obtain Syngas will give clean energy without harmful gases produced during the combustion of coal.

Syngas can be used in a variety of applications such as in the production of electricity and making chemical products, such as fertilizers.

Challenges Faced by India in Coal Gasification

Although Coal is abundantly available in India, there are many hurdles in its usage. The coal found in India has low calorific value (Gross Calorific Value of about 3600) and high levels of inorganic impurities (35-45%). The low calorific value means less energy output when synthesized which makes it costly. Also, the UCG technology available so far restricts the use of coal with ash content above 30% which is another major hindrance in realization of this technology on a large scale.

Government’s Initiative for Coal Gasification

The government is also very keen on this issue. On 25th September 2019, at a global business forum in New York, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned “The solution to reducing the amount of coal burnt in the country is coal gasification. By doing coal gasification we can get clean energy. We are inviting other countries to come with their technology for use in coal gasification, whether it can be used in mobility”.

Earlier in February 2019 a high-level meeting chaired by NITI Aayog member V.K. Saraswat was held with officials from the US department of energy. The meeting was attended by representatives of related ministries like Steel, petroleum and natural gas and some prominent PSUs like GAIL, PDIL and EIL.

NITI Aayog has also set up a Technical Committee to discuss and suggest roadmap and suitable technology for converting indigenous coal to energy and useful chemicals.

Coal Gasification based Projects in India

Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) has resumed production at its coal gasification project at Angul, Orissa for its Direct Reduced Iron (DRI of sponge iron) Steel plant on 14th January 2020. The plant was commissioned in 2014 but had to stop operation after a few months due to scarcity of coal. According to the company this was the first plant of its kind in the World where syngas was being used for making DRI.

Syngas has replaced costlier natural gas which is being used as a reductant by other DRI manufacturers across the globe.

Fertilizer Plant

Talcher Fertilizer Plant, also in Angul, is likely to be commissioned by third quarter of 2023. Talcher will be India’s first fertilizer plant based on coal gasification technology. On 17th September 2019, China’s Wuhuan Engineering Co Ltd had been awarded lump-sum turnkey contract for this project.

(Read More: Talcher Fertilizer’s Coal Gasification Plant to be India’s First)

Although there is no doubt that Coal Gasification will help India a lot in fulfilling its clean energy needs, but until an economically viable technology solution is found for extracting Syngas from underground reserves, the supply and success would be limited.