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Jul 13, 2011

Underground coal gasification has key role to play in Southern Africa

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Coal Wealth Botswana executive director Michael Nightingale discusses coal as an energy driver of economic growth in Africa. Editing: Lionel da Silva
Analytika's Alan Golding discussing coal mining in Botswana. Editing: Lionel da Silva
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Clean coal energy technologies combined with legislative incentives would complement the development of renewable energy, such as solar, wind and biomass, Coal Wealth Botswana executive director Michael Nightingale said on Wednesday.

Speaking at an underground coal gasification (UCG) conference, in Johannesburg, he said based on existing assumptions and production rates, South Africa’s coal reserves would only last for another 140 years, and could be dramatically reduced if conventional and less efficient power generation and industrial methods continued to be used.

“A clean coal energy strategy would derive maximum benefits for the country from its total coal energy resources, which is Africa’s major finite and indigenous energy and chemical resource,” he said.

Nightingale called on business and governments in Africa to consider coal not as a “mineral”, but as an “energy source” that could grow economies and develop new industries. “Energy is a ‘prime mover’ and we have millions of tons of waste coal lying around, which must be seen as energy in gigajoules and not tons,” he told Engineering News Online.

He argued that UCG, which coverts coal into gas, was one of the key processes needed in “uplifting the people of Africa”.

So too was UCG key to the development of Botswana’s coal resources, Botswana-based Analytika director Alan Golding said. Botswana has a resource of about 210-billion tons of coal.

“One of the challenges in developing coal in Botswana is the infrastructure for export. UCG is very important, as it would convert the inherent value of coal into a much higher value of syngas, which would lay the foundation for the development of a chemical industry. The country could then produce higher-end products, which is much easier to export than coal or power,” he explained.

Golding described Botswana’s stance towards developing its coal resources as proactive. The government is working on a coal road map, which he said, is expected to be complete in the next six months.

In July, Botswana placed a moratorium on new prospecting licences for coal, coal bed methane and related minerals, pending the finalisation of the new strategy for the coal sector.

Meanwhile, International Energy Agency Clean Coal Centre MD John Topper said that the commercial operation of UCG globally was possible, provided that confidence grew in the technology. The need for legislation and regulation with regard to UCG were also key to the establishment of a UCG industry.

However, UCG Association CEO Julie Lauder said there has been some progress in moving forward with UCG, given that the small companies operating in this arena are showing significant growth. She also called for the establishment of an international industry-recognised best practice.

“We need to convince governments of the environmental, financial and social benefits of UCG −a technology that has so much potential must be thoroughly investigated and funding must be secured to continue with research and skills development,” Lauder explained.
 

Edited by: Mariaan Webb
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