THAR coal is back in the news, thanks to a visit by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to Tharparkar and a demonstration by Dr Samar Mubarakmand of his miracle coal gasification technology. Dr Mubarakmand claims he can produce two billion barrels of diesel from Thar coal, that he can build a 100MW power plant that will run on gas produced from Thar coal and that 50,000MW of electricity is being generated around the world from technology of the sort he is busy installing. Many of these claims strain credibility. Coal gasification is still an experimental technology around the world and is only being used in small pilot projects in a few places. The amount of gas it yields is small, the heating value of the gas is low and the pressures are inadequate for purposes of power generation.
It’s troubling to hear Dr Mubarakmand’s assertions regarding the use of the technology elsewhere, and his inflated claims of what it can achieve in Pakistan. Following the ‘water car’ fiasco, it’s clear Pakistan’s political leaders have a limited capacity to understand even simple technical matters and how easy it is for snake-oil salesmen to find gullible policymakers with taxpayer money to spend on cure-alls and fix-alls. Dr Mubarakmand has ‘briefed’ a Standing Committee of the National Assembly, and hosted the prime minister on the site of his pro-ject and secured commitments for continued government funding of his dubious venture. A comprehensive audit should be performed to account for the Rs900m consumed thus far, and the technical evaluation performed by the Planning Commission should be made public. After all, there are other, private-sector investors with deep pockets trying to turn Thar coal into commercially viable fuel but have stayed away from Dr Mubarakmand’s project.