COAL TO LIQUID TECHNOLOGY: INDIA’S WAY FORWARD
Coal was once the largest source of energy in the world, and it still holds second place behind oil but one drawback is that it produces twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas per unit of energy generated. The solution is clean coal technologies that capture all the undesirable waste products and sequester them underground, so that the carbon materials do not pollute the atmosphere. Coal to liquid technology (CTL), better known as coal liquefaction is a process of converting ,coal into liquid hydrocarbons: ,liquid fuels and ,petrochemicals.
India is heavily dependent on petroleum imports. Coal liquefaction is an alternative route to produce diesel and gasoline and makes economic sense in a world of high crude oil prices. The best example of CTL was through the Fischer-Tropsch Method that was implemented in Nazi Germany in the 1940s when oil supplies were limited since then CTL technologies have steadily improved. South Africa has been producing liquid fuels from coal since 1955 and today, the South African company Sasol has three CTL plants that together produce more than 160, 000 barrels of liquid fuel per day from coal, which provides for about 30% of South Africa’s transport fuel requirements.
Interest in CTL is now growing worldwide, especially in coal-rich countries. Geographically, most active projects and recently commissioned operations are located in Asia, mainly in China. The driving factors are: low cost and large reserves of coal in many of these countries; increasing oil prices; desire for energy independence and security; and the potential for co-development of carbon capture and storage technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It involves gasification of coal, which in turn will produce synthetic gas which can be liquefied to its fuel equivalent in presence of cobalt/iron-based catalysts at higher pressure and temperature. However, liquefied coal emits twice as much CO2 as burning oil and a large volume of SO2 but these emissions are more readily and cheaply captured from CTL plants than from conventional coal-fired power stations and the captured CO2 can be transported and injected into underground storage reservoirs.
ISSUES WITH CTL
· High amount carbon dioxide is released thus impacting environment indirectly
· High cost of plant construction
· Huge coal reserve requirement
Critics argue that because of the high costs involved, and the environmental implications, CTL processes would only be used in the long term, where there is substantial government support for strategic reasons, and also where the extra CO2 produced can be effectively sequestered.
ADVANTAGES OF CTL
· It will reduce the current account deficit due to high payment done by government of India to other countries for crude oil
· Increasing self-sufficiency and increased energy security
However for this technology to be efficient we need to develop a mechanism where we can capture the released carbon during this process and store it. India has huge coal reserve in eastern parts of India, which is an advantage for India..
Apart from development of indigenous technology, the Indian government should facilitate in bringing leading foreign companies investing in domestic CTL projects with private Indian players. This would help in refining energy security concerns and bring about energy independence of the country.