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Wednesday, Nov 22, 2006

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Coal to stay key source for nation's energy needs

Badal Sanyal

Available reports suggest that although the number of mines in CIL will remain almost the same, the average mine size in terms of coal production will increase three-fold.

Energy security has become a growing concern for India because its energy needs are growing rapidly with rising income levels and a growing population. The threat to energy security arises not just from the uncertainty of availability and price of imported energy, but from the possible disruption or shortfalls in domestic production.

In fact, India's dependence on imported energy has increased from a level of 18 per cent of the total Primary Commercial Energy Supply (TPCES) in 1991 to 30 per cent in 2003.

Hydel potential

However, the Draft Integrated Energy Policy by Planning Commission is quite hopeful that the country may be able to exploit by 2030-31 its hydel potential to the tune of 1,50,000 MW, nuclear power to the extent of 59,000 MW and additional power through wind source to the tune of 14,000 MW.

Although the share of coal is expected to decline from 85 per cent to 78 per cent, that of gas-based energy is set to increase from 20 per cent in 2003-04 to 30 per cent in 2031-32.

Energy experts anticipate that long-term demand projection of coal could become a complex issue owing to rapid changes in the relative availability and price in the fuel sector, coupled with technical innovations and new policies in the end-use sectors.

Key contributor

The fact remains that coal will remain the key contributor to the Indian energy because there are vast proven reserves, with low-calorie and high-ash content but with low sulphur content, and remains regionally concentrated. It is feared that the extractable reserves based on current extraction technology remain limited.

The potential coal-bearing area of the country is about 24,400 sq km, of which about 45 per cent (10,200 km) has been covered by regional exploration as on January 2002. Out of this, about 50 per cent has been covered by detailed exploration. The coal inventory, assessed by Geological Survey of India (GSI) till January 2005, stands at about 248 billion tonnes (Bt), out of which 93 Bt (about 37 per cent) is in proved category.

The remaining 155 Bt (about 67 per cent) is in indicated and inferred categories, which need to be brought under proved category for any feasibility study of economic mining. It is pointed out that the coal resources within the depth range of 300 m stand at 152 Bt, of which about 47 per cent (71 Bt) are in proved category and 53 per cent in indicated/inferred categories.

The existing coal production strategy from opencast mines is based on assessment of the geological inventory of the country. Assessment of the existing mines has shown that the opencast mineable/extractable reserves vary from 80 per cent to 30 per cent of the net geological (proved) inventory.

Under the administrative control of Coal India Ltd (CIL), there are about 160 opencast mines that produced 260 million tonnes (mt) of coal in 2003-04. The production from opencast mines is expected to increase to the level of 715 mt by 2025.

Mine size to increase

Available reports suggest that although the number of mines in CIL will remain almost the same, the average mine size in terms of coal production will increase threefold.

Therefore, the contribution of production from mines producing less than one mt will reduce from 16 per cent to two per cent, from mines producing 1.5 mt will decrease from 35 per cent to 26 per cent, and from mines producing 5.10 mt will increase from 31 per cent to 44 per cent.

And contribution from mines over 10 mt per annum will increase from 18 per cent to 28 per cent by 2025.

These mines removed about 500 million cubic m (Mcum) of overburden (OB) to produce 260 mt of coal in 2003-04 at an average stripping ratio of 1.92 cu m of OB against per tonne of coal production.

It is estimated that about 715 mt of coal will be produced in CIL by opencast method in 2025 requiring about 2,000 Mcum of overburden removal at an average stripping ratio of around 2.75-3 cu m of OB against per tonne of coal.

Explaining CIL's future production strategy, Mr Lakshman Jha, Director (Technical) of CIL, has said that some of the existing high-capacity mines, while replacing the equipment, will go for higher equipment sizes if the remaining life justifies the same.

Moreover, with increasing haul distances and depths, and the growing need to conserve diesel, in-pit crushing and conveying technology using mobile/semi mobile-crushers will be introduced as an alternative to dumper transport where large volumes of coal need to be handled.

More Stories on : Power | Mining & Quarrying | Coal | West Bengal

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