The article outlined three different proposals submitted by OIL, Tata-Sasol and Reliance. The OIL proposal is a direct liquefaction facility using low-ash, Assam coal, significantly lower in initial process investment (2.5 billion $) compared to Tata-Sasol and Reliance (8 billion $), which use high-ash coals. Both Tata-Sasol and Reliance proposals are expected to produce 80,000 barrels of liquids/day by consuming more than 30 million metric tonnes of coal/year. Accordingly, both Tata-Sasol and Reliance have ~1.4-1.6 billion tonnes of coal as their requirements (over the plant lifetime). This is 2-3 % of India's recoverable coal reserves. There is considerable resistance within the Indian government to open up coal for fuel production, mainly because Indian coal imports for power generation are projected to increase.
According to the article, the water requirements for CTL processes are around 12-14 barrels/barrel liquid fuel. Most of this is projected to come from ground water because of low supply of surface water in the areas where these CTL plants are planned to be sited. However, I think that this is less of a limiting factor, because coal can be transported relatively easily in trains. Therefore, the exact siting of the CTL facility may not be near the mining site itself, but where adequate water supplies are available. Additionally, because the direct liquefaction process uses hydrogen to cook coal to liquids, I would expect the water requirements for direct liquefaction process to be lower than the indirect liquefaction process.
The third challenge outlined in the article is the emissions from CTL plants. Being a believer in industrial ecology, I think that the emissions of H2S and VOCs can be used for fruitful purposes. For example: H2S can be captured and used as a source of sulphuric acid (H2SO4), which is an intermediate in the production of ammonium phosphate-based fertilizers. Therefore, I do not agree with all the points in the article. However, the article does raise valid questions regarding the CO2 emissions from CTL processes.
Summing up, the article does not advocate that India promote CTL plants in a normal business-as-usual scenario. On the other hand, I think that increased demand for coal (arising from CTL and power generation) will lead to improved coal mining technologies. I have been told that coal mines in India are relatively inefficient compared to their couterparts in the US. Why are such technologies not being put in place currently? There is no additional incentive for the coal mining company(ies) to invest because the profit margins on power generation will be small compared to the profit margins on CTL plants. Additionally, I think that high crude prices are here to stay. Therefore, I think a balanced approach, promoting energy conservation as well as cleaner, novel technologies are what India needs to develop sustainably.
More links below:
Is India ready for CTL fuels?
Articles on Indian coal from Ananth Chikkatur, on his website.