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With about 50 per cent less electricity generation capability than the actual demand, Pakistan’s National Grid is facing more than a 5,000-megawatt shortfall in power generation, leading to blackouts in both urban and rural areas of the country. Due to unscheduled shortages by the National Power Control Center, urban areas are facing unscheduled minimum 8-hour power blackouts each day, while in rural areas the blackouts can last as long as 14 hours.
The situation is equally miserable in the country’s compressed natural gas (CNG) sector, which is now facing three days per week suspension of gas deliveries, the country’s textile sector -four days a week, while the gas supply to non-textile industry has been suspended for indefinite period.
Scrambling to exploit virtually any indigenous sources of energy, officials in the capital Islamabad are now pinning their hopes on the Thar Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) pilot project, situated in the Tharparkar desert in Sindh eastern Pakistan.
Underground coal gasification converts coal to gas while still in the coal seam, where injection wells are drilled and used to supply the oxidants to ignite and fuel the underground combustion process, with separate production wells used to bring the product gas to surface. The high pressure combustion is conducted at temperatures of 1,290-1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, but can reach up to 2,730 degrees Fahrenheit. The process produces carbon monoxide and dioxide, hydrogen and methane.
Boosters of the Thar UCG project note that Block Number 5 of Thar Coal Project contains 1.4 billion tons of low-grade lignite coal reserves. Overall the coal reserves at Thar are estimated at 175 billion tons of lignite coal.
Advantages claimed for the Thar UCG project include the fact that, as the coal is burnt 600 feet under the ground, threat of environmental pollution is minimized. In addition, as the coal is processed in situ rather than being dug out and brought to the earth’s surface to be burnt to generate electricity, UCG will minimize electricity generating costs, projected to be $0.04538 to $0.05673 per kilowatt hour, as opposed to current costs at $0.11345 to $0.13614 per kilowatt hour.
And all that is required to make this energy miracle happen is for the federal government to provide an additional $100 million in funding to generate electricity from the project as soon as possible, which will then reportedly allow the Thar UCG project to supply 100 megawatts of electricity annually to the national power grid by December 2013. According to Dr. Muhammad Saleem, director of the Thar UCG project, only $9.1 million has been spent on the Thar’s UCG development so far.
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