The vast coal reserves of Pakistan, estimated at
around 186 billion tons have finally started to attract foreign
investment, the most prominent being China interested to setup a
coal-powered power generation plant by end this year at Thar, the area
that houses the largest reserves of over 175 billion tons. Though many
other countries, including Bosnia, have also shown keen interest in coal
exploration. This article primary highlights the Chinese interest that
would fuel coal exploration in the country.
A pre-feasibility study of the Thar coal reserves has
already being conducted by the Shinhua Group. As is, coal plays an
important role as the primary and an inexpensive source for power
generation. For instance, over half of the power generation in the US
comes from coal, the share of which is expected to increase to 54 per
cent by the year 2020. In many other developed countries it is also
being used as the primary source for power generation.
The policy makers in Pakistan have also realised the
importance of coal as inexpensive power generation resource and that
explains the government's plans meet 20 per cent of its energy demand
from coal in the near future. The plant at Thar, funded by China would
provide half a million dollars soft credit for the proposed 600 mw
plant. It would be one of many other coal-powered plants across the
country generating a total of 3,000 mw under the plan that envisages to
meet 20 per cent of the energy demand from coal as planned.
While no two coals are alike primary due to the fact
that each has its very own chemical properties, it is encouraging to
note that lignite type of coal found in Pakistan is suitable for power
generation despite certain limitations — it contains high sulphur
content and also high ash. However, lignite could be processed and
washed to make it suitable for use in power generation. Coal found at
Lakra mines, which has substantial reserves of over 1.3 billion tons, is
found most suitable for washing. A national company, Shahzad
International, with international links signed a MoU with the Sindh
Government to set up a washing plant in November 2002 in the country
which costing $ 4 million with an annual capacity of 1 million ton
primary to be used by the cement industry.
A number of studies have also been conducted for the
use of Lakhra coal for power generation including government of Sindh,
Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation and others. The coal is primary
used by brick kilns and though, as reported by PAGE in its Issue
No. 4 this year the half of cement industry has also converted to coal
and the remaining is expected to shift from gas to coal by end this
year, the conversion has not benefited the local coal because cement
units use costly imported coal as the local coal is of low quality.
However, the conversion has helped local coal find a new market because
it is used in the mixing with the imported counterpart.
While power plants could be a major consumer of
indigenous coal, the high sulphur and ash content make it unsuitabel for
the purpose and thus, at present, brick kilns are its major consumers.
China's willingness to setup coal-powered plant
around the coal mines in Thar makes all the more sense because it would
help save heavy transportation expenses which otherwise makes the use of
coal economically unviable. In addition, lignite found in Thar has
comparative lower sulphur content to make it more suitable for power
generation after the most suitable washing process and the most
appropriate plant design.
As mentioned earlier each coal differs from other in
ways and no two coals are exactly the same. Just as oil is fossalised
animals, coal is fossalised plants. Coals, however, differ in many
different ways as per their heating value, ash melting, temperature,
suphur and other impurities, and numerous other chemical and physical
properties. These numerous properties of a coal determine its use for a
Coal is primary classified into four major
categories, or 'ranks' — lignite, sub-bituminous, bituminous and
anthracite. One of the most valuable content of coal is its carbon
content which supplies most of its heating value. However, various other
factors are also important to determine the amount of energy per unit
weight of a particular coal.
Bituminous and sub-bituminous 'ranks' of coal are
inferior to anthracite while lignite ranks the lowest. Anthracite, the
top ranked coal has the highest carbon content that ranges between 86-98
per cent and has a heat value of nearly 15,000 BTUs (British Thermal
Units) per pound. The bituminous variety is used primary to generate
electricity and to make coke for the steel industry. It has a carbon
content of between 45-86 per cent and a heat value of 10,500-15,500 BTUs
per pound. Sub-bituminous comes next it has 35-45 per cent carbon
content and a heat value of 8,300-13,000 BTUs per pound. However,
despite its lower heat value, sub-bituminous coal also has lower sulphur
content compared to other 'ranks' which makes it attractive for use
because it is much cleaner to burn.
Lignite, the indigenous 'rank' found in Pakistan is a
comparatively young coal geologically speaking and has the lowest carbon
content of just 25-35 per cent and also the lowest heat value of only
4,000-8,300 BTUs per pound. However, lignite which is called 'brown
coal' at times is mainly used for electric power generation.
Having defined the various coal 'ranks' show that the
vast deposits of indigenous lignite could be used in Pakistan for power
generation to help lessen dependence on expensive oil imports which
despite reduction, due primary to shifting of power plants to gas, still
costs billions to the national economy annually.
It's time to explore coal and develop coal-fired
power plants to not only lessen dependence on imported fuel but also to
cut the cost of power production for the benefit of the industries,
trade and individual consumers.