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APROPOS Mehr M. Siddique’s letter ‘Utilisation of Thar coal’ (Oct 16), I would like to clarify some points.

First, the observation that Thar coal will become powder as soon as it is taken out due to evaporation of water is incorrect. The Thar lignite is very similar to other lignite mines of the world in terms of its characteristics. Like many other lignite mines, there are underground aquifers in the Thar region above and below the coal seam, but as practised elsewhere, these aquifers will be dewatered in a control manner prior to taking out the coal.

Moisture percentage in lignite coal can vary from 30 to 70 per cent and the Thar lignite contains about 47 per cent moisture, which is similar to the lignite being mined in Germany, India, China and Greece.

Developers in Thar have already extracted a significant quantity of lignite through borehole drilling and there is no observation of lignite becoming powder or self-combusting, even after more than two years of storage.

Moreover, in the Indian Kutch region which is an extension of the lignite seam of Thar, lignite is transported as far away as 800-900kms in trucks and railway wagons safely, economically and without any environmental impact. Jamshoro is only 250kms from Thar and it is the most suitable location for setting up coal fired power plants.

In addition, transporting raw lignite will not require any special or expensive means and can, therefore, be transported through conventional means of transport like highway trucks and train wagons.

Second, the point that Thar coal lignite contains about seven per cent sulphur in it and would not be suitable for burning in conventional boilers is not correct. Thar lignite only has 1.07 per cent sulphur which is quite suitable for use in conventional coal-fired boilers. India uses it primarily for power generation in conventional pulverised coal (PC) boilers. It is also important to note that more than 56 per cent of India’s total power generation comes from coal.

Third, the notion that significant wastage and pilferage are likely to occur on the way from the mine to the power plant does not have sufficient merit. Like any other solid cargo transported all over Pakistan, lignite can also be transported without any issues of wastage or pilferage. There are a number of transportation companies which undertake such supply contracts with full guarantee against transit wastage or pilferage.

Fourth, it is correct that Thar lignite if left exposed for extended period of time will catch fire. However, Thar lignite can be easily transported to any location within the country within 24 to 48 hours via road or rail network and hence unlike imported coal the plant need not maintain significant stocks of coal.

Moreover, there are some very simple procedural controls like spraying of water by which chances of spontaneous combustion is significantly reduced. Also up to seven to 10 days storage and stacking of lignite at the power plants is quite common in Germany, China, India and Greece.

The writer also points out that special air removal and water sprinkler systems are required for such stocked coal. However, this is a standard safety precaution which is provided in all lignite stacking areas and stack heights of up to eight metres all over the world.

Moreover, since there is no gas available in the country, we have to immediately switch over to the cheapest fuel source of coal, as successfully practiced by all developed countries.

SHAMSUDDIN SHEIKH Representative of Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company Karachi