Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Climate change: The Indian Business Perspective

KPMG released their report on whether India's industry is prepared to handle climate change. The report finds a significant gap between "good intentions" and actual action on measuring and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, it concludes that Indian industries have to play a greater role in making most use of India's status as a developing country (under the Kyoto CDM or other measures) and assess the implications of climate change on their business.
Hat tip : India Chemicals blog

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Bauxite vs beliefs in India: The case of Sterlite & the Dongria Kondh

Vedanta Resources wants to dig into the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa to feed an alumina refinery. The native Dongria, who are animists, claim that this will desecrate their sacred hills & upset their mode of life. From the Oxford Analytica
"The David and Goliath battle will be settled a thousand miles away in New Delhi by solemn moustaches in subfusc cloaks. India's Supreme Court will decide whether Sterlite Industries, Vedanta's Indian subsidiary, can proceed with the project. If this were a Bollywood film, the villagers would destroy their rapacious corporate oppressors in a game of cricket; yet in real life, big business usually triumphs"
I liked the Lagaan reference. Orissa has ~70% of the Indian bauxite deposits. The Niyamgiri hills have ~73 million tonnes of high quality bauxite. The 1995 recoverable reserves of bauxite were 2462 million tonnes. In perspective, the Niyamgiri hills have ~3% of the total Indian bauxite deposits. One thing that strikes me is that this indicates that there are other places which make up 63% of the Indian bauxite reserves. An overly simplistic solution may be to look for a different site. This is not feasible because the company has already built a processing plant at the base of the hills. Some cost-benefit analyses might be in order to settle this. Both industry and environmentalists in India will be closely watching this verdict.

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Resources:

Distinctions among different types of aluminas (bauxite is hydrated alumia).
USGS minerals sheet on bauxite.
A somewhat old report from TERI on the bauxite reserves in India.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Underground Coal Gasification: Keep the coal in the ground, convert it to gas

The world has much more coal than oil/natural gas. However, using coal also entails the disposal of mineral matter produced due to combustion/gasification. Additionally, for technologies such as coal-to-liquids (CTL), the captial cost of a gasification plant is very high. One technology that overcomes these two limitations is Underground Coal Gasification (UCG).
In UCG, the coal seam is gasified underground, by injecting either steam/hot air or a combination of both, converting the hydrocarbons to a syngas mixture, rich in inert gases. This mixture can then be further processed to remove the inert gases and produce synfuels. The highlights of UCG are NOx emissions which are comparable to combined cycle power plants, lesser ash volumes and lower capital costs. (See the GCC blog for results from a life cycle study on UCG compared to other "clean coal" technologies.) On the other hand, the operation of a UCG plant/reactor requires detailed knowledge of the stability/safety of the coal seam. Because the coal in the ground is being gasified, some subsidence will occur. Additionally, care must be taken to make sure that the ground water does not get contaminated by the organics produced during UCG. Accordingly, the UCG well should be located below the water table, and should be operated under negative pressure to ensure no leakage of fluids to the ground water. Additional details about UCG are given in the links below. By far, the best example of a UCG facility has been the Chinchilla project in Australia, which was the longest running demonstration project of its kind.

Update: I recently became aware of the Majuba project in South Africa (Thanks David!), which is supposedly more technically challenging than Chinchilla.


Whereas both the Majuba & Chinchilla projects converted/convert the gases from UCG into power, the gases could also be converted to synfuels. My opinions after the jump.
I am very interested in UCG, because this represents a unique combination of challenges in mine safety, mine engineering, coal gasification (fuel science) and potential CO2 sequestration. Moreover, when the ash content of the coal is too high (~30-40%), it may be economical to gasify it in-place instead of mining and gasifying it ex-situ. This is useful especially for Indian coals which have a higher ash content compared to most US coals. Therefore, a future CTL plant in India need not entirely be an above-ground structure. In fact, partial gasification to produce syngas and the conversion of this produced gas above ground to liquids might be cheaper. A phenomenon which is closely related to UCG is coal fires (UCF), which result from the burning of the coal seam. Examples are Centralia (PA), and fires in the Jharia coal seam. See Prof. Anupma Prakash's web page for more information on these phenomena.

Hat tip: Green Car Congress
Some links:
Best practices in UCG
Underground coal gasification: A new clean coal utilization technique for India
Primer on UCG

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Humor: (Statistical) Human life costs



Colbert mentions that five years ago, the value of a human life (according to the EPA) was 7.8 million $, which was lowered to 6.9 million in today's dollars. A cursory check with the US Dollar Index (DX) showed that it decreased from ~100 to ~78 within the same period. Therefore, actually, the money should have been 7.8 * .78 = 6.08 million $.

This leads to some interesting questions:

Does dollar depreciation mean that employees are taking lesser risks to carry out their job functions? Why should the perceived value of a human life decrease with time? The world is currently enjoying record levels of overall prosperity, at any point in its history. The notion that a statistical human life is worth lesser now, compared to 2003/4 needs some explanation. This is also mentioned in a recent MSNBC article.

My views:
The evaluation of human life is used mainly by cost-benefit analyses, for implementing environmental regulations. Although these analyses are intended to provide guidelines to drive policy, IMO they should not be the only tools used to make public environmental policy.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Flue gas or Fuel ? : India's CTL Dilemma

India currently imports 72% of its crude oil consumption. It does have recoverable reserves of 50-71 billion tonnes of coal, currently primarily used for power generation. Here is a recent article on possible externalities from adopting coal to liquids (CTL) technologies in India. The authors (Ananth Chikkatur and Sunitha Dubey) underscore three issues surrounding the implementation of CTL technologies in India : the availability of coal, water requirements for CTL plants, and the emissions from CTL processes.

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.

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ONN: India-Pakistan nuclear standoff

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Volatile India-Pakistan Standoff Enters 11,680th Day
This is not exactly energy-related, but I thought it was funny. On a more serious level, nuclear energy has to play an increasingly important role, at least in India. India's first nuclear test happened in 1974 at Pokhran.

Update: Here is a BBC link to the political backlash surrounding the US-India nuclear deal.

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