REPORT

Nigeria: The magic of smokeless coal

After traversing the major coal deposits in the country, from Aguwatashi in Nasarawa to Enyeama and Oji in Enugu State, Maiganga in Gombe and Okaba in Kogi — and a visit to Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida( IBB) University where smokeless coal research is being carried out — SINA FADARE reveals how this resource can help end the electricity supply challenge.

Nigeria sits comfortably on billions of tons of coal. Yet businesses die for lack of power which can be generated from coal. Former Minister of Solid Minerals Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is now Ekiti State governor, raised the hope of a better future in energy provision through coal when two years ago at an economic summit, he declared that by 2020, the country would be generating 1000 megawatts of electricity through coal. Fayemi said: “Coal exploration offers a significant opportunity for power generation and one of the efforts that we are making now in partnership with the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is ensuring that coal forms a significant part of the energy needs.” Fayemi, who argued that though some people were worried about the usage of coal on climate change, assured all that clean coal would come to the rescue.

The former minister noted that during the glorious days of the Nigerian Coal Corporation, coal was used to generate electricity, adding that the Indigenisation Decree of 1972 contributed immensely to the lost glory of exploration of coal. “Nigeria is once again on the path to providing a transparent and workable regulatory and policy environment for more robust private-sector led mining,” he promised.

Coal potentials

Coal production started in Nigeria in 1902 and it was the main energy source for the country until 1960. The Nation’s enquiries show that coal is in about 19 states.  Expert put the coal deposit at about 2.8 billion metric tons. A study by Behre Dolbear & Company (USA) Inc shows that the Anambra Coal Basin is of seven coal mining districts; three of the basins have been explored to an appreciable level, and they are the Kogi, Benue and Enugu Coal Districts and they further have two or more coal resource areas each.

The Kogi Coal District is in an area of 225,000 hectares of the Anambra Coal Basin. Two areas in the district have been explored to a limited degree. In the northern part of it, Ogboyoga, drill data has it that there are 27 holes, which have been drilled and cored and 15 separate measurements have been taken of outcrops of the main coal seam in stream drainages. The coal deposit in Enugu, The Nation learnt, was used to power the Oji River Power Station. The power station served industries, such as the Premier Cashew Industry in Oghe, the P&T Corporation, the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Niger Gas and Niger Steel.

A visit to Iva Valley, Oji River Power Station, Onyeama Mine, Amansiodo Coal Field, Ezinmo Coal Field and Inyi Coal Field revealed that they have all been abandoned with dilapidated buildings as reminders of the mines in the coal city.

The Nation gathered that some industrialists in the country have resulted into importation of coal from South Africa to power their factories. Leading the coal-import initiative from South Africa is Dangote Cement Plc, which had placed an initial order of 30,000 tonnes of the commodity from the continent’s second largest economy.

A geologist, Samuel Alabi, told The Nation that coal is a better alternative to end the energy crisis.

According to him, “What the country needs now is to go back to the drawing board and put in place the necessary machinery that can help in exploiting its natural resources.” Council of Nigeria Mining Engineers and Geo-scientists Registrar  Jonathan Ikeakor said the crisis bedeviling Nigeria’s energy sector could be solved by using coal as an alternative means of generating electricity. Ikeakor noted that the technology for coal power plant is not as complicated as those of gas plant, nuclear power plant or hydro-power plant.

The Registrar pointed out that the use of coal could thrive in the country if government has the political will to bring it to fruition. He recalled that Nigeria used to generate power from coal at Orji River in the early 60s as the thermal plant there was generating electricity for the people of the defunct Eastern Region. “Once you can show investors that you have coal in commercial quantities, they will show interest. Coal should be contributing an appreciable percentage of our energy mix in Nigeria sooner than later,” he explained.

Enter smokeless coal

Speaking to The Nation in her office, the chairman of Kogi State Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee (MIREMCO), Hajia Hassiat Suleiman, explained that though mining and mineral resources are on the exclusive list of the Federal Government, states could find a way around this. Hajia Suleiman said: “During the economic summit in the state, smokeless coal was displayed and demonstrated. When it was put to use for domestic cooking, it was a good innovation without any smoke and very fast in cooking. It was clean like a crystal. This will assist in the area of domestic use and discourage deforestation.” Lending credence to the potential and importance of coal to energy generation, a consultant on rural energy and National Coordinator of the Green Shield Organisation, Dr. Kabir Abudulkadri, noted that coal was the engine room of the industrial revolution in Nigeria in the early 1950s.

Coal energy, according to him, is very efficient and billions of metric tons are deposited in the ground, which, he said, cannot be exhausted in the next 300 years. “We have one of the best coals in the world. It is smokeless. It can be made clean if it is carbonised through simple technology. The coal in Enugu was carbonised and we domesticated it for local use,” he said.

New hope in smokeless coal

Fayemi obviously had the smokeless coal in mind when he allayed the fears of those concerned about climate change. With funding support from the Nigerian Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND)  and the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, scientists at the Centre for Applied Science and Technology Research (CASTER) of the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida IBB University, Lapai in Niger State, led by Prof. Nuhu Obaje, are working on the exploration and cleaning up the country’s coal deposits.

The team has been able to differentiate ‘ good’ from ‘bad’ coals, with a caveat that not all coals are environmentally harmful for electrical power generation; the team has found out that even the so-called ‘bad coal’ can be cleaned. Speaking to The Nation at CASTER House,  Obaje, who is a Professor of Geology with vast experience in the oil and academic sectors, said the country was blessed with  commercially-viable coal scattered all over the country, which can be  exploited to halt the epileptic energy crises in the country. Electricity supply, he said, is in gross shortfall and has resulted in the shutting down of many industries with job losses. He advocated the use of coal to solve the problem.

“The use of ‘good coal’, on the other hand, will make more energy source available to many communities and mitigate deforestation. Our study at IBB University assumed that the good coals are those that will produce very little smoke during combustion and take less time to emit the desired energy. “The study correlated the geochemical/ petro graphical parameters against combustibility time for samples of Nigerian coal deposits obtained from Okaba, Owukpa, Ogboyoga, Omelehu, deposited in the Anambra Basin in one and Lafia-Obi coals in the Middle Benue and Maiganga in Gombe,” he said.

The powerful enemies of coal-to-power projects

But, former Minister of Finance Mrs. Kemi Adeosun believes some multinational institutions and western countries are out to block coal-to-power projects in the country. The minister, who spoke at a conference in Washington DC in October, last year, described the multinational institutions and their western backers as hypocrites for denying Nigeria and other African countries the opportunity to use coal to generate electricity. Speaking during a panel session titled: “Towards Better Infrastructure in Developing Countries”, Mrs. Adeosun said: “I am going to point fingers at multinational institutions and the West (for double standard). A good example is the coal-fired power plants. In Nigeria, we have coal but we have power problem, yet we’ve been blocked because it is not green.

“It is hypocrisy because we have the entire western industrialisation built on coal energy; that is the competitive advantage that they have been using. Now, Africa wants to use coal and suddenly they are saying, ‘Oh, you have to use solar and wind (renewable energy), which are the most expensive, after polluting the environment for hundreds of years. Now that Africa wants to use coal, they deny us.” Mrs. Adeosun, who lamented the lack of level playing ground when African countries are involved, added: “We need policy consistency to attract bankable projects. We also need macro-economic stability. If you want to phase out coal, no problem. But those who started it should lead. Those who want us to stop using dirty fuel should stop it first before telling us not to use it. “By telling us not to use coal, they are pushing us into the destructive cycle of underdevelopment. While you have competitive advantage, you tie our hands behind us.”

However, Obaje sees it from different perspective: “I did not see  any western conspiracy but our level of technological capture. The whole world is a competitive world; everybody is protecting its market. If l am producing a lot of steel and you want to produce also, l will discourage you not to produce. “It is a competitive world and in other to outdo others better with technical know how others are discouraged to venture into it. “Coal is a sort of worry to environmentalists; there is nothing bad about it, even the food we eat, and at times, there are side effects. It is left for us to develop our technology to know what we want to use it for and how.”

He added: “The technology to make it environment friendly is what we are working on. We are using the technology to capture the bad element in coal called coal processing so that it will suit our environment and needs. Others that are using it have also developed the technology that gave them the advantage of using it without environmental pollution. This they cannot give to us because it is a competitive market.”

Obaje pointed out that with the latest result from the samples of coals worked on, it is crystal clear that Nigeria can generate electrical power to enhance energy availability in the country through smokeless coal. In addition, he argued that it can also be used for domestic purpose, thereby curb deforestation.

The Nation’s checks show that coal provides about 30 per cent of global primary energy needs, generates over 40 per cent of the world’s electricity and is used in the production of 70 per cent of the world’s steel. According to the World Economy  Forum 2016 Report, the top 10 countries using coal to generate electricity are China- 3,785 metric tons; USA-1,643 metric tons; India-801 metric tons; Japan-303 metric tons; Germany-287 metric tons; South Africa-239 metric tons; Korea-239 metric tons; Australia- 171 metric tons;  Russian Federation-169 metric tons and United Kingdom-144 metric tons.

Coal for energy is now

Against this backdrop, a consultant and media advocate, Comrade Zik Gbemre, noted that smokeless coal should be used to end the country’s woes. The coal reserves, said Gbemre, remain largely unexploited, even after the blocs were sold to prospective miners. “For instance, why should the nation be importing coal from South Africa to power its industries and plants when we have abundant coal deposits waiting to be tapped and utilised?” he queried. He added: “Important users of coal include alumina refineries, paper manufacturers, and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Several chemical products can be produced from the by-products of coal. Refined coal tar is used in the manufacture of chemicals, such as creosote oil, naphthalene, phenol, and benzene.

“Ammonia gas recovered from coke ovens is used to manufacture ammonia salts, nitric acid and agricultural fertilisers. Thousands of different products have coal or coal by-products as components: soap, aspirins, solvents, dyes, plastics and fibers, such as rayon and nylon. “Coal is also an essential ingredient in the production of specialist products: Activated carbon – used in filters for water and air purification and in kidney dialysis machines; carbon fiber – an extremely strong but light weight reinforcement material used in construction, mountain bikes and tennis rackets; Silicon metal – used to produce silicones and silages, which are in turn used to make lubricants, water repellents, resins, cosmetics, hair shampoos and toothpastes. “This makes the export of coal a money-making venture that any serious government should strive to actualise.”

Developing coal, he said, would open a new window of opportunities for the country. “The truth is that if the Nigerian coal sector is fully developed, it will create enormous employment opportunities for the countess Nigerian jobless youths roaming the streets, and it will also create export opportunities that will rake in lot revenue for the country, just like the US. “It is funny that the same U.S and the West that are talking about global warming are the ones leading and thriving in the coal business deal that is creating wealth for them. The coal sector is a manual-driven sector that is not automated; hence it is one that will provide enormous job opportunities for the Nigerian youths.

“If the U.S., as the super number one world power is relying on coal energy and coal export, why can’t the Nigerian Government focus their attention on utilising the coal potential of the country and develop it to generate wealth for all,”  he said.

The clog

Checks show that 18 companies were given license to exploit coal, but only three are exploiting due to administrative bottleneck. Past administrations, The Nation learnt, failed to conduct the 3D seismic study, which will assist the investor to know the volume of the coal deposit, the quality and the location.

A director at CADASTRE, Abuja, who spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity, said a huge sum was budgeted for the study, but it went down the drain. The source further explained that N923 million was budgeted for the study in 2012, N1.7 billion in 2013 and another N1.1 billion in 2014, but there was nothing on the ground for investors to work on. “Therefore, the banks are very skeptical to finance such a project. This is our dilemma,” he said. He added: ”The study was meant to get the net quantity that will help in planning by the Federal Government as well as investors. But unfortunately, the money went down the drain and the study is still in the limbo.”

Confirming the importance  and relevant of  workable statistics, Obaje said the country has commercial and economic viable coal deposits in the soil. According to him, if there are more funding a lot of research can still be carried out to know the quantity, quality, and the type of coal in the country. Until then, he added, nothing much can be done to make the country reap the benefits of coal.

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