Low emission coal technology, reduces cost, helps the environment
* Petroleum lobby against coal-burnt energy
* Thar coal could produce 20,000MW for 40 years
By Naseem Sheikh
Although coal should not be promoted as energy resource as its really very toxic and not environmental friendly but these days Pakistan is in the grip of a serious energy crisis that is affecting all sectors of the economy and the various segments of the society.
In Pakistan, political instability, indecision, corruption, terrorism and security problems have kept exploration and production of possible alternative energy sources at a standstill both in Thar and Balochistan.
This petroleum lobby is very strong in Pakistan and they are against any other means of power generation except for the imported oil. This lobby is major beneficiary of the increasing oil bill that is estimated above 15 billion dollars for the country this year. The energy sector requires efficient and clean energy supplies. In case of coal, the country needs to have to ensure higher efficiencies, environmental acceptance, prolonging its availability and proper replacement for oil and natural gas. This is only possible through sustainable development of new coal conversion technologies.
Current power generation from the Thar reserves is less than 0.5 percent of the potential capacity of the deep and rich reserves, which are spread over 9,600 square kilometres (sq km) with the potential to generate 100,000 Megawatts (MW) a year. Some estimates put the value of the reserves at US$30 trillion on a desert that encompasses nearly 200,000 sq km of eastern Pakistan and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Chinese and other companies had not only carried out surveys and feasibilities of this project but also offered 100 percent investment in last 7 to 8 years but the “Petroleum Gang” always discouraged them in a very systematic way. Coal is a basic source of energy as by just 2 percent usage of Thar Coal could produce 20,000 MW of electricity for next 40 years, without any single second of load shedding. And if the whole reserves are utilised, then it could easily be imagined how much energy could be generated.
Pakistan’s largest coal reserves are found in Sindh with approximately 184,123 billion tonnes. The coal power generation would cost Pakistan Rs 5.67 per unit while power generated by Independent Power Projects (IPP) cost Rs 9.27. It requires just initial 420 billion rupees initial investment, whereas Pakistan receives annually 1220 billion from tax only. If there is such a thing as clean coal production, then Pakistan has such massive reserves that it will be the logical place for it, but in the meantime the ‘Petroleum Gang’ keep the country from exploring the potential for any form of energy beyond petrol.
Need of the hour is to utilise this asset sensibly as matter is not toxic but way to handle it must kept in mind, and few precautions must be taken to get energy from it burning coal produces sulphur dioxide, an acidic gas that contributes to the formation of acid rain. This can be largely avoided using ‘flue gas desulphurisation’ to clean up the gases before they are released into the atmosphere. This method uses limestone, and produces gypsum for the building industry as a by-product. However, it uses a lot of limestone. Burning coal could soon become a little friendlier if Dr John Zhu from the University of Queensland has anything to say about it. Chemical engineer Professor John Zhu from the School of Chemical Engineering is working on Direct Carbon Fuel Cells (DCFC), which will create twice as much power from coal as current methods and minimise greenhouse gas emissions.
He hopes to develop a carbon nanotube (CNT) membrane that can filter carbon dioxide out of coal plant emissions, allowing the pure carbon dioxide to be sequestered. The membrane blocks carbon dioxide, while letting other gases through. While similar technology exists, they separate gases too slowly to be effective in power plants. The CNT isolates ‘moving gases up to 100 times faster than other gas separation techniques.’
In addition, the same technique can be used to separate methane that is removed during coal mining. Usually other gases dilute the methane too much to make it useful, but by using a CNT membrane, the other gases can be filtered out. Professor Zhu said that when coal reacts with air in the DCFC, it generated highly energy-efficient electricity. In addition to saving cost and energy, the DCFC will also provide clean power.