Worried about the rising levels of carbon dioxide emissions from power projects, the government has asked state-owned companies such as Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (Bhel) and NTPC Ltd to set up expensive, but less-polluting power plants.
These so-called integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants convert coal into a cleaner burning fuel, which is then burned in a gas turbine combined cycle system to generate electricity.
While it costs Rs4 crore per MW to build a conventional power plant, it takes twice that for an IGCC plant.
A miner at a coal mine at Godavarikhani near Hyderabad. India burnt 485 million tonnes per annum of coal in 2007-08; the high ash content of Indian coal has resulted in more emissions (Photo by: Noah Seelam/AFP)
“The country’s first IGCC project of 125MW will be set up by Bhel and Andhra Pradesh Power Generation Corp. Ltd at Vijayawada. Another IGCC project will also be set up by Bhel in association with NTPC at Auriya in Uttar Pradesh having a capacity of around 300MW,” said Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for power and commerce.
These projects are part of the government’s efforts to burn coal cleanly. The government wants to focus on the power sector because it accounts for half of India’s carbon dioxide emissions. Almost 70% of the power generated in the country is from coal. And 78% of the coal used in the country goes to power plants.
The concept of IGCC plants isn’t new, but the costs involved make this technology unpopular. There are currently only two IGCC plants operational in the US.
While India’s carbon dioxide emissions are low on a per capita basis, they are quite high in absolute terms. The country is ranked fourth among top contributors to global carbon dioxide emissions in a list compiled by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. According to this agency, India accounts for 9% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Even Washington-based policy research agency Center for Global Development recently identified NTPC as the third largest polluter among the world’s power generating companies.
K. Ravi Kumar, chairman and managing director, Bhel, said: “We are building the gasifier (which converts coal to gas) for the two projects and expect that the projects will be completed within a time span of 48 months.”
A senior NTPC executive, who did not wish to be identified, said that the IGCC project would improve power generation efficiencies apart from lowering emissions.
India burned 485 million tonnes per annum of coal in 2007-08. Demand for the commodity in the country is expected to touch 1 billion tonnes by 2018.
“There are two reasons why gasification may seem appropriate in Indian conditions. India’s huge coal resource base makes coal a natural choice to fuel energy. There also is growing awareness of the environmental damage that emissions from burning coal causes,” said Dipesh Dipu, a manager with accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Dipu added that the high ash content of Indian coal resulted in more emissions.
India, with a current power generation capacity of 143,000MW expects to add an additional 78,577MW by 2012, of which around 46,600MW will come from coal-based projects.
As part of its drive for lowering emissions from power projects, the government has also asked the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and NTPC to work together to find ways to use bacteria for clean-coal technology as reported by Mint on 25 June.