Pakistan to produce gas by burning underground coal

Karachi: With about 50% less electricity generation capability than actual demand, Pakistan’s National Grid is facing more than 5,000-megawatt shortfall in power generation, leading to load shedding in urban and rural areas of the country. Due to unscheduled shortages by National Power Control Center, urban areas are facing unscheduled minimum 8-hour power blackouts each day, while in rural areas blackouts can last as long as 10 hours, oilprice.com reported.

The situation is equally miserable in compressed natural gas (CNG) sector, which is now facing three days per week suspension of gas deliveries, textile sector -four days a week, while gas supply to non-textile industry has been suspended. Scrambling to exploit virtually any indigenous sources of energy, officials are pinning hopes on Thar Underground Coal Gasification UCG pilot project in Sindh province.

Underground coal gasification converts coal to gas while still in coal seam, where injection wells are drilled and used to supply oxidants to ignite and fuel underground combustion process, with separate production wells used to bring product gas to surface. High pressure combustion is conducted at temperatures of 1,290-1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, but can reach up to 2,730 degrees Fahrenheit. The process produces carbon monoxide and dioxide, hydrogen and methane.

Boosters of Thar UCG project note that Block Number 5 of Thar Coal Project contains 1.4 billion tons of low-grade lignite coal reserves. Overall coal reserves at Thar are estimated at 175 billion tons of lignite coal. Advantages claimed for Thar
UCG project include the fact that, as coal is burnt 600 feet under the ground, threat of environmental pollution is minimized. In addition, as coal is processed in situ rather than being dug out and brought to earth’s surface to be burnt to generate electricity, UCG will minimize electricity generating costs, projected to be $0.04538 to $0.05673 per kilowatt hour, as opposed to current costs at $0.11345 to $0.13614 per kilowatt hour.

All that is required to make this energy miracle happen is for federal government to provide an additional $100 million in funding to generate electricity from project as soon as possible, which will then reportedly allow Thar UCG project to supply 100 megawatts of electricity annually to national power grid by December 2013. According to Dr. Muhammad Saleem, director of
Thar UCG project, only $9.1 million has been spent on Thar’s UCG development so far. Science & Technology Planning Commission member Samar Mubarakmand said Sindh coal reserves are sufficient to provide electricity to the nation for more than 30 years.

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