Coal an alternate fuel for continues process industries

The shift is not possible without modern mining and dependable infrastructure

 Apr 30 - May 06, 2001

The recent hike in crude oil price and the decision of oil producing and exporting countries to maintain its prices within a bandwidth coerce Pakistan to explore alternate but indigenous fuels. Burning natural gas, as fuel, is an imprudent act though we have been doing this for decades. On April 23, Sindh Coal Authority organized a seminar on "Coal as a fuel for cement and other process industries". The consensus at the end of seminar was, "Though Pakistan has some of the largest superior quality coal reserves of the world, the country has not been able to exploit them due to the GoP policies, absence of modern coal mining facilities and lack of infrastructure for its transportation".

Introducing the topic and the speakers, Ahmed Hinjra, Director General Sindh Coal Authority said, "The increasing cost of crude oil based fuels demands exploring other alternatives and coal being indigenous appears to be most promising. Pakistan has some of the largest and superior quality reserves and efforts have to be made to exploit them. Some of the sectors where coal can be used are power generation, sugar and cement. If coal is used in these sectors the country will be able to reduce its fuel import bill."

An interesting presentation was the narration of experience of Dadabhoy Cement by Qaseem Siddique. He discussed various issues related to the use of coal in cement industry but was of the opinion that coal is usable in cement manufacturing. Most of the equipment required for switchover from furnace oil to coal is available locally but cement units will have to make fresh investment. Making fresh investment in a industry which is already incurring losses due to low capacity utilization does not sound prudent, at least for the time being. He was also of the opinion that if rate of tax is reduced and capacity utilization is increased units would be able to curtail their losses by optimizing cost of cement production.

Engineer, Saifullah Khan Paracha presented a very detailed account of coal reserves and mining and its useability in various industries. The estimated coal deposits of the country are about 220 billion tonnes. Of this 98 per cent are located in the province of Sindh. As against this present total annual coal production is estimated around 4.5 million tonnes in Pakistan. He said that since all over the world coal is used for cement manufacturing and technology is also available, Pakistan should exploit the indigenous fuel rather than burning imported furnace oil. There are 23 cement manufacturing units in Pakistan with an installed capacity of 18 million tonnes per annum. These units consume, despite low capacity utilization, furnace oil worth Rs 8.36 billion per annum. The cost per 1000 BTU of coal is 11.70 paisa and the cost of equivalent furnace oil comes to 26.22 paisa.

Dr. Arshad Ali Baig suggested that since Pakistan needs additional power generation capacity, efforts should be made to base the future plants on local coal. Technology for smaller power plants of 25 MW is available from China. He also suggested use of coal in desalination plants which are also needed by the country.

A. R. Thaplawala, Executive Director of Lucky Cement discussed the various concerns, monetary concern being the most important for the sponsors. For a 2000 tonnes per day plant an investment of Rs 250 million may be required to enable it to use coal. Another serious concern is the inadequacy of infrastructure for transportation of nearly 3 million tonnes of coal to be used. He also discussed the impact of higher percentage of sulphur and ash contents in coal on cement. In his view, if the government is serious about promoting use of coal, unless mines are developed and production is increased industries will not be in a position to opt for switchover.

Shunaid Qureshi, Chairman, Pakistan Sugar Mills Association, Sindh-Balochistan zone expressed keen interest in using coal by sugar mills. At present baggasse is as major fuel for boilers and furnace oil is used to meet the shortfall. In his opinion, if coal is used baggasse can be used for production of value-added products. Mills, which operate for less than 150 days, can be operated throughout the year.

Dewan Muhammad Yousuf Farooqui, Minister for Industries and Mineral Development, Sindh, chaired the concluding session. He said, "Pakistan needs to conserve its foreign exchange reserves and use of indigenous coal can help in achieving the objective." Referring to cement industry he said, "The manufacturers can save about Rs 500 per tonne if they use coal efficiently instead of furnace oil." This technology is available and extensively used globally. He also emphasized the use of coal for power generation. Replying to a question, he said, "The previous governments did not give due importance to indigenous coal due to various political reasons. However, present government is not only keen but also making efforts to exploit coal potential."