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High Hopes on UCG Policy
- B N Prasad, General Manager, CBM Dept, CMPDI
In the patient hope of Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) Policy, Badrinath Prasad, General Manager, Coal Bed Methane (CBM) Department, Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Limited (CMPDI), shares with us the scope, challenges and expectation from the UCG policy that is soaring around energy sector.

In the midst of speculations and scandals surrounding the coal industry, many companies are eyeing the coal blocks to capitalise the yet unexplored area of underground coal gasification. Taking cues from attributes, the government has declared to bring out policy for underground coal gasification. The technology has shaped destinies of many countries especially South Africa, who are flourishing in this arena with hi-tech equipment and advanced technology. Sriprakash Jaiswal, Minister for Coal Industry had earlier sought cooperation from South Africa for UCG technologies.

Being a nation with high coal reserves, India does stand a good chance to meet the energy demand to a significant extent by utilising the available reserves using advanced technologies. Coal is available in abundance in the country and plays a very critical role in India╩s energy mix accounting for 55 per cent of primary energy supplies and 70 per cent of electricity generation.

Our domestic coal production is not keeping pace with the steep demand for energy, and driven by the escalating energy demand and difficulties to go for open cast mining, the Government is not left with any choice but to come up with the Underground Coal Gasification Policy.

The World Coal Association defines UCG as the method to convert unworked coal into a combustible gas that can be used for industrial heating, power generation or manufacture of hydrogen, synthetic natural gas (syngas) or diesel fuel. The process involves drilling of two wells wherein the coal at the base of the first well is heated to temperature that results in its combustion. However , with careful regulation of the oxidant flow instead of burning the coal , syngas can be produced which is then drawn from the second well and can be used for power generation and even as the substitute for natural gas as feedstock for various industrial applications thus providing an alternate route for downstream chemicals manufacturing. China would be a great example which is using indigenously available coal to produce syngas as an alternate to natural gas in chemical manufacturing.

Prasad emphasises that UCG offers great potential of extracting the energy from deep seated isolated coal deposits which so far could not be mined due to techno economic reasons. Coal India Ltd (CIL) and Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) forayed into this field during the mid-80s. Around the same time, CMPDI took up the science & technology project at Merta Road Road lignite deposit with technical support from the then Russia (USSR). The data were generated and the area was found suitable for pilot scale study. The project however could not be pursued further on apprehension of contamination of ground water. In recent years, advancement on technological front and compliance with environmental norms, has generated confidence in UCG techniques and coal rich countries are including this as a part of their energy programs.

India has been dominated by increasing demand for energy and coal being one of the indigenously available resources, contributes for majority of the energy demand in the country. He is confident that the announcement of policy for underground coal gasification will certainly provide a boost to the country╩s energy sector.

The decision by the Government on announcement of the underground coal gasification policy has attracted much attention of the private energy players who have already submitted bids and also looking at technology alliances with international companies to equip themselves for the future.

Prasad notes that several areas in the country where coal/lignite deposits, isolated in nature and lying deep where mining is not feasible due to techno economic consideration will be very much relevant in such areas provided the technology is perfected for Indian geological conditions.

He remarks that the Government has been inclined to have the UCG policy in place and came up with the issuing of Gazette Notification on July 2007, specifying production of syngas obtained through coal gasification (underground and surface) and coal liquefaction to be end uses for the purpose of Coal Mines Nationalisation Act, 1973. This notification has paved the way for taking up UCG by public/private entrepreneurs.

Further, the Ministry of Coal (MoC) has also subsequently issued guidelines for commercial exploitation of UCG. Now that the Government is taking greater interest in formulating the policy, after announcement of the policy it is expected that much interest will be generated in taking up UCG projects and the policy will open up new vistas for the participation of foreign experts in this field and its Source: Ergo Energy Technologies contribution will help in utilising coal/ lignite resources which are not amenable at present. The energy thus harnessed will supplement the energy requirement of the nation.

CMPDI, a subsidiary of Coal India Limited, contemplates commercial development of UCG and has already identified two prospective UCG blocks within CIL leasehold areas, Prasad informs. They are scouting for technical expertise to pursue the projects and then emulate the success at other sites as well. Further, CIL is also contemplating to take pilot scale demonstration project with ONGC in one of the identified areas under NCEF sources.

According to the media reports, due to certain issues, UCG policy was postponed but since now open cast mining is becoming difficult, it has become essential to bring out policy for UCG. It is planned that after the finalisation of the policy, the blocks for coal gasification will be identified and interested companies will be invited for bidding blocks, However the Government has set annual turnover of ` 200 crore as the minimum eligibility criteria for bidding for coal blocks.

With the declaration of policy, several sectors are patiently waiting for the policy to come out and fulfil everyone╩s expectation. Along with end user companies and manufacturing units, even government bodies hope the policy comes with the best deals.

UCG could be highly beneficial as this enables in-situ energy generation without extraction of coal from underground thus eliminating the need of coal mining, transportation and ash disposal. But on the other hand, the mitigation of contamination of ground water is a great challenge that UCG operators continue facing. Constant updating in UCG technology like implementation of CRIP technology etc. will minimise the risk of ground water contamination.

With the induction and implementation of UCG Policy in India, it will definitely aid to tackle the energy crisis that the country is currently facing and to a significant extent, be a part of the India╩s energy basket. Challenges walk hand in hand with innovations which eventually lead to advancements in the existing technologies. Although there are very positive signs of announcement of UCG policy by the Indian Government but the execution of projects would require detailed geological studies for successful implementation of technologies.