Quest for green coal

Coal is the predominant fuel in India's energy basket. Some 55% of the country's energy needs is met by coal and, this coal-centric energy structure will continue for at least two or three decades more. Thus, affordable and sustainable supply of coal is a significant issue. Production and usage of coal can, however, also cause serious damage to forests and environment. This was brought to the fore by the 'go, no-go' controversy over environmental clearance for coal mining projects.

Given the higher anticipated demand for energy and the importance of coal in the future energy portfolio, coal mining and combustion activities are likely to escalate in the future. The need to access coal resources under forest cover will also increase manifold. In this context, it is imperative for the country to adopt measures that reduce environmental damage from coal mining and combustion, and avoid/reduce the scope of frequent economy-environment dilemma.

A policy option is to promote the use of clean coal technologies (CCT) which can be installed at different stages of the coal chain for reducing pollution and environmental damage. For instance, technologies such as electrostatic precipitators (ESP) and low NOx burners at the stage of combustion and flue-gas desulpherisation (FGD) and selective catalytic reducers (SCR) at the post-combustion stage can be applied to reduce emissions of particulate matter and gases.

In addition, through adoption of advanced technologies such as underground coal gassification, coal bed methane, etc, mining and extraction of coal is avoided and thereby the generation of waste and other environmental externalities.

Some of these technologies are widely accepted in India. However, penetration of many technologies that have gained commercial applicability internationally has been limited in India. Recognising this, in recent years, the government of India, public sector enterprises, and scientific and research institutes have adopted various initiatives to introduce these technologies. Various R&D programmes, demonstration plants and pilot studies have been initiated.

Regulations have been introduced to accelerate the pace of movement towards CCT. For instance, a clean energy cess of R50/tonne is now levied on coal and the proceeds are used for financing research and innovative projects in CCT. Foreign collaborations have also been initiated to acquire these sustainable technologies.

What acts as a major hindrance, however, is the absence of proper environmental regulations. The government has issued regulations for monitoring ambient air quality, however, stack emission standards are currently unregulated. There have been instances where deployment of technology has been discouraged due to the lack of stack emission standards. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to come up with statutory emission standards to further facilitate adoption of these sustainable technologies.

Tags: urban lifestyle, sustainable development