A Russian and a German scientist gave explanation why coal may become the driver of fuel and energy complex
In St. Petersburg Vladimir Litvinenko, rector of Saint-Petersburg mining university, and professor of Freiberg mining academy, Berndt Meyer, presented their new work titled “Syngas Production: Status and Potential for Implementation in Russian Industry” published by Springer. The authors argue that by introducing new technologies, conventional resources such as coal may become the driver of economy growth due to formation of chains of product added value at the domestic level. “Forpost” found out what action is necessary to undertake to turn coal from “dirty” raw material into “pure”.
Unsurprisingly, the public developed negative attitude to coal long ago. When burning coal, the emission release is 10 times greater compared to oil combustion. Therefore, natural gas in contrast to coal is reputed to be an absolutely ecologically clean fuel.
However, Russia possesses the second largest coal reserve in the world – 157 billion tons. Such supply is sufficient for 500 years. This means it is essential to develop technologies allowing full use of these resources without damaging the ecosystems. Even today it is possible to produce up to 130 chemical products and over 5 thousand products in related fields as the result of advanced processing of coal and treatment of technogenic waste, due to the major role of the process of gasification producing synthesis gas. In such a case, the impact on environment and human health decreases to a minimum.
"It is necessary to combine innovation with conventional raw material, - thinks Berndt Meyer,- I mean not only the primary source but secondary as well. Millions of tons of waste and slime are produced in Russia. Now they are either stored in landfills or burnt, but it is not what future needs. We are thinking of how to use that waste effectively to get chemical industry products from it. We think that oil or gas should not be burnt but, otherwise, synthesized. Heat, power, ethylene, propylen, methanol, mineral fertilizers and many other products can be obtained from syngas".
Boom of development of gasification technologies in the West and China fell on the middle of the last decade , and was bind to surge in oil prices. However, its subsequent decline in price decreased commercial attractiveness of gas generators that are converting coal into gas. Now, the prime objective for scientists doing research in this field is to reduce capital costs for construction and installation maintenance.
The key element of the research done by Vladimir Litvinenko and Berndt Meyer, was to estimate the competitiveness of a number of products manufactured by introduction of advanced gasification technologies. For example, even today methanol production can be commercially marketable. Its price at the world markets is above 300 euro per one ton. Whereas the cost of full process, when it comes to advanced processing of low-ash , i.e. higher quality coal is 256 euro, and 279 euro for processing of high ash coal.
On the other hand, authors’ estimations of perspectives of producing synthetic liquid fuel from coal are not too optimistic. Theoretically, it is quite possible, however, the product manufacturing costs are surpassing current market prices. In this regard, its production with small-scale gas generators is practical only in hard-to-reach coaly regions.
“The prime force of progress lies in investment in technologies and not in resources. The future of the industry is closely connected to the development of new high-tech products such as synthetic fuel, products of chemistry and agrochemistry. Coal gasification is a very promising direction, for it will create new jobs and enhance tax revenues domestically due to chains of added value of product.”- says Vladimir Litvinenko.
Coal mining is on the rise in Russia and its rate is gradually getting closer to one previously existing in the Soviet Union. In 1990 395 millions of tons of coal were mined in the Soviet Union and about 380 million tons were mined in Russia in 2016. More than 40 % of coal is exported, while the share of energy produced from coal in country’s energetic balance is gradually declining and now constitutes about 10%, due to accelerated gasification of the regions. Prospective global demand for this resource will continue to grow, and Russia’s coal industry, remaining money making and managed without subsidies, will continue its dynamic development. However, usage of coal as primary source (i.e. volume of coal combustion), will decrease. According to many experts, the growth of consumption will be facilitated by introduction of new technologies of coal gasification.
“It’s evident for me, that quantity of coal consumption in the world will not decline, says Anatoliy Yanovsky, Deputy Minister of Energy of Russian Federation. “It is connected to the growth of global population, and the necessity to provide the humankind with raw material resources in conditions of energetical poverty. In already developed economies demand for this resource will gradually decline, while increasing in developing countries. As the result, annual growth before 2040, will amount to about 0,6%, although, coal share in the global fuel balance will slightly decline.”
Not long ago it was considered that the future of domestic coal industry will be defined, first of all, by the development of import to China and particularly to India. Nowadays, coal production, specifically in India, is increasing at a quick rate, for this fuel type is the cheapest and most available resource able to meet the energy needs of the country’s rapid-fire growth.
Scientific research done by Vladimir Litvinenko and Berndt Meyer brings out an alternative track of the branch’s development. It is based on building high-tech coal processing plants. This will lead to increase in demand for coal and will create prerequisites for more dynamic development of the entire fuel-energy complex of the country on the whole. Taking into consideration that coal reserves in our subsurface resources surpass both oil and gas reserves combined, this may play a significant role in secure energy supply for Russia for many years to come.