Coal Play: Unpacking The Options For Clean Coal Technology - Business Media MAGS

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Coal Play: Unpacking The Options For Clean Coal Technology

Coal, as a significant contributor to polluting the environment, continues to face global and local headwinds. Is there light at the end of this rather dark tunnel for this particular commodity?

By: Nelendhre Moodley

SA Mining recently caught up with Professor Emeritus Rosemary Falcon from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand to determine whether there is a future for coal and the extent to which clean coal technologies are viable.

To what extent is industry adopting the use of clean coal technology?

There is little talk about this anywhere that I have been or have had access to, however:

Medupi and Kusile boiler plants are designed to operate at high efficiency with low emissions, so CO2 output is planned to be considerably lower than that emitted by other subcritical boilers in the Eskom fleet. FGD plants for SOx capture have either already been installed or soon will be. Low NOx burners have been fitted to these boilers and to most of Eskom’s other boilers.

The SA Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage (SACCCS) is working on pilot or demo scale drilling to experiment with CO2 storage in rocks in the Zululand site but this does not appear to have gone too far at this stage.

Some boiler plants are burning biomass which reduces their CO2 emissions, either co-fired with coal or alone – this would be companies such as SAPPI, MONDI, and the sugar industry.

Some companies are employing the system of co-generation – i.e. the method whereby excess heat produced in the plant or furnaces is re-used in the process rather than lost to the atmosphere.

The many thousands (>6 000) of small-scale coal-fired industrial boilers in the region will need to reduce their emissions in the time frame suggested by the carbon tax legislation but funds and incentives are required for full-scale implementation. The technologies are available to do so.

Is industry investing sufficiently in progressing developments in clean coal technology?

Far more research and development are required in clean coal technologies, but funding is woefully limited. The needs and conditions in this country and the options available are not being discussed or advertised or promoted sufficiently. This may well be because the coal “industry” (producers and users of coal) have had their heads in the sand in the hope that environmental pressures would simply “go away” or just not happen.

It is interesting to note that this country (SA) is famous for its mining, extraction and beneficiation of all our precious minerals and metals, but that is as far as it has gone. Beyond the mine gate, little or no further research or development in fields as such environmental impact or emission prevention have been funded, supported, encouraged or developed.

This is a major gap in the country and one which may or may not be solved by technologies brought in from countries of the north. SA should be developing technologies of its own, suited to its own conditions, and applied to its own products, processes and legislations.

How does one put costs to all this? A major roadmap should be developed and steps drawn up with appropriate funding to solve these issues, managed by people experienced in the situations pertinent to this country (region).

What are some challenges RELATED TO clean coal adoption and where do opportunities lie?

Key challenges include lack of interest, support, knowledge and funding.

Opportunities lie in South Africa developing its own technologies and processes – including the adaptation of certain concepts from abroad to suit the conditions in this country. I am aware of some key coal-fired technologies such as circulating fluidised bed combustion and gasification from abroad that would be the answer to the normal use of coal with a clean coal process that makes use of all GHG and CO2 emissions for the production of valuable commodities. It produces clean air as its final emitted “product” and is truly clean coal technology.

Is there any other information that you wish to impart?

Only that coal is a vital source for the production of thousands of products apart from electricity so its use as a major chemical element (C) for such manufacturing must be recognised, nurtured and protected. But such manufacturing cannot continue without clean coal technologies. It is vital that South Africa encourages, supports (financially) and develops the means whereby this valuable commodity can continue to be used cleanly for a long time to come.

Image: ©iStock - 1088681326

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