India has the fifth largest global reserves of coal, providing more than half of the country’s primary energy and over 70% of its electricity. With these vast natural resources, India is in a prime position to use the most environmentally-responsible method to convert coal and low-value refinery by-products such as petroleum coke or liquid residue into value-added chemicals, synthetic fuels and power.
Other than the conventional use of coal to produce electricity, there are technologies that convert coal to basic chemicals like methanol, ammonia, olefins, etc. Coal can also be converted to liquid fuels (CTL) and synthetic natural gas (SNG) through gasification. India is a rapidly developing country where leveraging indigenous coal resources is the most feasible and sustainable solution for meeting increasing local energy needs, rather than deploying capital to import crude oil.
Additionally, refinery residues and other by-products with high energy potential, have traditionally been sold as high sulfur bunker fuel for ships, causing additional sulfur dioxide pollution and limiting the full energy or economic potential that such bottom of the barrel residues hold. The IMO 2020 regulations will reduce the global market for these high sulfur fuels by eliminating their use for bunker fuel purposes. Alternatively, higher value-added chemicals and hydrogen, carbon monoxide/syngas can be produced by residue gasification technology of these bottom of the barrel residues.
Gasification- the cleanest way to convert coal to energy and chemicals
Coal powers the majority of the Indian power grid and should be a primary focus when considering sustainable and efficient alternatives. Burning coal the conventional way to extract its energy potential is a pollutive and inefficient way to generate electricity, while technologies such as gasification and carbon capture can be game changers. An economy based on clean-coal technology can directly increase India’s GDP (gross domestic products) and reduce imports. Gasification based IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) power plants, although capital intensive, can provide cleaner power and domestic security when compared to internationally supplied energy sources.
Syngas from gasification can be the building block for a variety of high-value end-use products.
Other than energy generation, gasification of coal also can create immense opportunities for other sectors, including fertilizers, chemicals and synthetic fuels. Gasification is incredibly versatile, efficient and cost effective.
Sustainable and profitable opportunities
In addition, gasification benefits refineries as well by enabling them to convert low-value refinery residues and asphaltenes/petcoke into syngas/chemicals/hydrogen and SNG. This is especially so when alternative technologies such as steam reforming rely on higher value feedstocks such as natural gas, LNG, LPG and naphtha. Also, bottom of the barrel refinery residues along with heavier, less expensive crudes can be transformed into valuable products, including petrochemicals (e.g., methanol-to-olefins or MTO).
Gasification is a cost-efficient, high value solution across its multi-industry applications and wherever it is deployed, it can be used to create high-value chemicals and fuels.
Air Products is a world-leading industrial gas company and a forerunner in the gasification business globally, leveraging its recent acquisition of GE’s gasification technology with the earlier acquisition of the Coal Gasification Technology licensing business from Shell, with whom there is also a strategic alliance for residue gasification technology to refinery complexes.
Anand Chordia, Managing Director, Air Products India, reflects, “The core value of these technology acquisitions is the ability to build on more than 40 years of Air Products’ gasification experience and the opportunity to fully explore sale-of-gas outsourcing options to produce and supply syngas for customers planning to use gasification. We have been involved in some of the world’s largest gasification projects, for example, our recently completed project in Lu’an, China uses our patented technology.”
Chordia continues, “With the fifth largest global reserve of coal in India, Air Products’ gasification technology is best suited for India considering the impurities in the coal available in the region. The technology offers a way to take varied lower-value feedstocks and convert them in a lower-emission manner into syngas/chemicals. With these technologies, we are expanding our portfolio of product and service offerings and solutions to provide syngas for chemicals, fertilizers and synthetic fuels.”
Overcoming Challenges for a cleaner and better world
While the efficiency and climate considerations are clear to the entire energy value chain, achieving the economies of scale will be vital to give gasification the market momentum that will benefit India.
Gasification provides India the cleanest way to convert coal to syngas, and the technology as its energy pathway can unlock the creation of new industries and industrial hubs for chemical feedstock and synthetic fuels like SNG or CTL, allowing India to use its abundant coal reserves as a source of resilient and sustainable energy.
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