Green Business Ideas – Abandoned coalfields can boost RE and save forest in India.

25 Aug

Through this article, an attempt is being made to be on the top rung of the IWR-2012. We as a Nation must understand the meaning of Wealth as opposed to Riches. As the World reels in the clutch of economic depression; of its own making through continued myopic vision of the leadership, India my beloved nation is gearing up to tear away the last remaining virgin forests in the name of “development”. That development is a fundamental right of humans, the right of live of all living beings (trees, animals and even moss, lichen and bacteria)  and their importance in keeping this world alive can’t be discounted. As always, I abhor unlawful protest and mindless activism, but would attempt to find an idea for mankind to earn more riches but in the process create & preserve the natural wealth of the Nation.

In the recent report published, it is stated that the USA is abandoning RET for cheaper Gas. Many companies especially in the Solar PV business have closed shop.This is primarily because, people will adopt technologies which are cheaper. To this argument I have only one question to ask, is Gas renewable energy? It is not and it has its own set of problems, both ecological as well as geopolitical. Thus if the sum-total is added up, Gas is not cheaper as it is presented via a series of complex mathematical calculations. These calculations are made by “experts” who have no expertise on the environmental and ecological consequence. Neither are the experts on the physiological impact it would bring in the long term on the Peoples who, addicted as they are to fossil fuel go into depression, for want of continuous supply of the same. Every middle east upheaval can be attributed to this fear of change in the absence of another addictive fossil fuel, Oil. On whose slippery ground the modern civilization stands today. As far as I know in the India context, we are having a major Geopolitical tension with our Northern neighbours, who seem to be claiming a sea zone for itself. Although War is also a form of ‘renewable’ action, I don’t think it is sustainable and green, just as the shale gas for which we are going into so much trouble.

While we have some time unlike the USA, to really have an impact from gas; we surely have created a World record recently – by having the largest grid failure in the history of the civilized world. And this has renewed the baying for more coal field allocation, which is fatal to the preservation of the Ecosystem.

A modern Nation, with weak infrastructure is a recipe for disaster, as it becomes vulnerable to external malicious attacks. Imagine if we are in a grid-lock, with all  critical systems off-line ( although external defence may have back-ups but civil defence in disarray would only cause problems) and disaster strikes. Either natural or man-made, the resulting mayhem is to scary to discuss.  And this is exactly the matter which the mandarins at the Capital must be discussing. The sudden explosive actions across the Nation to increase electric tariff and diesel price, points to the direction that the last remaining saner voices within the administration are being heard and untenable subsidy may be on the way out.

The danger however is that, historically politicians across the world have a very myopic vision but superb oratory skill. And with this Devil – gifted skill, they would convince the Nation that “coal-gate scam” is actually a boon. And we must allow to rip the heart of Mother Earth ever more and extract coal, to fuel our thermal power plants and thus produce more electricity. And a few more Nuclear plants would actually ease the pain .

Environment be dammed! Already preparation are on to create a sham of the Madhav Gadgil report on the western ghats, which suggests detailed recommendations and suggestions on preservation of the Ecologically sensitive region which has even got the UNESCO status. ( details in DNA news).

But, as in all problems my beloved Nations faces, in this Great National Blackout too I see a fantastic Green Business opportunity. Together we the people, the environmentalists and the think-tanks can help our Corporate Czars, perhaps members of CIICESD and WBCSD to build upon the renewable energy options and reap the benefits. Before we delve into it let us first understand coal.

Coal is perhaps one of the most important discovery which catapulted the human civilization to its present form. Coal has various grades Lignite, Sub-bituminous coal,Bituminous coal, Steam coal, are mostly used for industrial purpose, where as Peat, Anthracite, Graphite have also found use in residential heating, agriculture and making lubricants and most importantly the Pencil . However the primary use of coal lets say to keep it simple, is for two basic purpose – It is primarily burned for the production of electricity and/or heat, and is also used for industrial purposes such as refining metals. The five largest coal users – China, USA, India, Russia and Japan – account for 77% of total global coal use. Coal & Oil along with their derivatives are here to stay and no amount of protest would stop its use and extraction completely. Let us not for a minute, forget that even the rudiments of protest which we as environmentalists are advocating & sharing via electronic media today would  be possible if the production of coal is stopped abruptly. Because we are using the very infrastructure built via use of coal.  Over the ages, with knowledge which we had during that time, coupled with complete absence of any form of protest against pollution; we have built this modern high-carbon life style completely dependent on one form of carbon or other.

However, if concerted action is taken we can within an acceptable and accelerated time-frame perhaps be able to switch over to more cleaner and renewable options which are already available in the alternative energy basket. And the way forward may be the idea I’m about to present. It would in no way be perfect, but just a seed of thought which I’m sure people with expertise can work on. And coupled with the renewable energy mission our country is attempting to take, we may just be able to increase  that scope. Especially Solar, Hybrid Solar  and Solar thermal power stations. And I propose another type of idea that which may be named – Geo-thermal + Hybrid solar, if it finds currency among the experts. And to this I appeal CAN-International, WRI and Green Peace International to find the experts who could make this possible.

Having established that Coal ( as is oil & gas ) is  a fuel, we need to see where it is being used. Again to keep it simple, we will take the largest consumers namely – 1. The Steel Plants  2. The Thermal Power plants.

In India, our steel plants come under the banner of Steel Authority of India (SAIL) and they are situated in the city of  Bokaro, Bhilai, Rourkela and Durgapur. To begin with let’s see look at the area a steel plant requires and what are the allied industries within it or at close proximity. Clicking on the image one would be able to zoom into the Rourkela Steel plant, Odisha.  On one end you would notice the Slag dumping ground and exactly opposite between the CISF grounds and the Diesel Colony railway station, a massive coal yard. The coal to this plant comes from  the once beautiful place around the now famous Mahanadi Coal fields thermal power plant area  around the historic IB river valley between  Jharsuguda, Brajrajnagar and Belpahar. ( “Bel” = wood apple + pahar = hill, one should know that there are no more hills because the open cast mining has ripped this place apart ) and the the iron-ore from the last dense forest cover of Kiri Buru. A place so beautiful that it could have made one of the best hill-station of that region, if humans had not found iron -ore there.  While my limited knowledge can’t find the alternate to steel, it is however a different matter about how we can limit the use of coal.

To begin with, let us switch the use of coal as being envisaged for thermal power plants  in the  steel plants too. And use Solar Photo Voltaic to the extent possible. As the supply of coal becomes more and more scarce, the massive land area within the Steel plants which has to stock up coal  can easily be converted into land for Concentrated Solar Power panels. Coal is required as a fuel, to be burnt in blast furnaces to produce heat to produce steel. Now if we can still provide the heat through heating coils, which are powered by CSP, the job can be done. The fundamentals would be more or less the same which is being advocated by NREL Coupled with heat recovery units and in time other innovations, CSP may well be able to supply the electricity required for night-time operations too, perhaps with Nickel–iron battery (NiFe Batteries) which are reborn and  presently showing promise better than the Lithium-ion batteries. But it is obvious that the land required to produce the amount of electricity needed will not be sufficient within the plant premise. For this I would like to draw our attention to the following.

The attached     table    on degraded and wasteland  from a research paper by Indian  Council  of Agricultural Research and National Academy of Agricultural   Sciences       (double click on image for full report) shows that we have an average of 133.95 Million Hectares of degraded and wasteland. A detailed and easy to understand report it warns of the impending food crisis and climate change due to the continuous degradation of land. Excerpts – Forests occupy about 19.4% of the total geographical area of the country against the ideal requirement of 33%…. Per capita availability of inelastic land resource is rapidly declining in  relation
to annual population growth of 1.4% in the country.  Increasing GDP growth is expanding urbanization and industrialization and, therefore, more and more of agricultural lands are being utilized for non-agricultural purposes. The complex interplay of natural and anthropogenic processes compounds problems of land-use planning further. Maintaining and enhancing productive potential of our land resources is vital for progressive introduction of sustainable technologies, and thereby resilience in crop production….This challenge must and needs to be met in the face of the changing consumption patterns, impacts of the climate change and degradation of the finite land and water resources. Management of land resources, in general, and potentially cultivable lands in particular, encompasses, crop production methods that will keep pace with country’s food needs, sustaining environment, blunting impacts of climate change, preserving and enhancing natural resources, and supporting livelihood of farmers and rural population in the country. Thus, there is a pressing need for enlarging area under arable lands, by the way of reclaiming degraded lands for sustainable intensification of agriculture, in which crop yields can be increased without compromising and yielding to adverse environmental impacts and without reducing area under forests…. Land degradation, like climate change, is an anthropogenic induced process and poses biggest threat to sustainable livelihood security of the farming communities across the country. All of these factors combined with increased rate of land degradation are contributing towards decline in agricultural productivity leading to food insecurity. Since land resources are finite, requisite measures are required to reclaim degraded and wastelands, so that areas going out of cultivation due to social and economic reasons are replenished by reclaiming these lands and by arresting further loss of production potential.
In all this dark and doom, one can see that India’s democratic foundation is strong and its institutions work. Only the reports which can actually make a positive impact gets buried in Crony Capitalism and narrow political agenda of a few. That there is a rot in the cart of apples is evident, therefore the better ones are in grave danger and need all the more to connect to the pulse of the people and do the right thing.

And if the recent buzz is to be believed we are going to lose a massive forest cover sooner than later for mining coal for feeding our thermal power and steel plants. And this can be reduced if not stopped.

And that would be to identify the completely degraded land and set up Solar plants in them to offset the needs of the power and steel industry. According to the Wasteland Map of India–NRSA data, land which comes under Physical degradation that is – Mining and industrial waste 0.19 million hectares; Water-logging (permanent surface inundation) 0.88 million hectares; and as per Salt-Af fected Soils Map of India,CSSRI, NBSS & LUP, NRSA and others, land under Chemical degradation ie; Exclusively salt affected soils amount to 5.44million hectares.

If one visits the coal -belt area between Durgapur Steel Plant and Asansol ( Burnpur steel from British era ) and halt at Andal junction, one would find huge tracts of waste land, where not even a single blade of grass grow. While underground mining is relatively better for the ecology  but how far biological reclamation is possible needs to be understood, as this Newsletter of ISEB India has touched upon.  Therefore one suggestion could be that solar power plants be installed in these degraded land. Even the permanent water logged abandoned mine areas and contaminated water from the mines which are run-off can be taken into good use by converting them into the mini-source of water, which is what in the form of steam runs the turbines of a thermal power plant to generate electricity.

And the most important innovation would be to tap into the heat of the smouldering underground fire which these vast mine fields have ignited.By using Geothermal Technology. It is a phenomena found World wide and I can not fathom how the great corporate Czars have not yet thought of exploring this heat to electricity and earn a Noble Prize in the process.

The Greatest Green Business Idea till now would be that with one deft stroke, where-ever possible ( everything is possible if economics do not come in the way, just as it does not when a Nation hosts the Olympics, spending billions on stadia which would hardly see the same amount of use, ever again ) degraded land especially near Steel plants and Thermal power plants need to install CSP. And capture the latent heat from the vast burning underground coal fields to supplement the night-time requirements.   A strong policy which looks into the aspects of support as required by this fledgling RET industry must be given. And for those who are wondering how to capture the heat from the burning coal-fields just read-up on geo-thermal technology.

As mentioned in my earlier article, the private sector is already geared up to meet this challenge and some of the players would jump into the opportunity of Build Own Operate and Transfer model (BOOT).  The challenge is would the media house and the top environment NGO’s take this matter up to create a crescendo of public awareness, thus making the government take action !

Note:  The images used have their original urls attached to them (and the articles therein are a must read) as are underlined links which contain the complete story to support this article. These images are only for representation purpose, however if the idea in the article helps recover any waste land for good use, I shall be grateful.


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5 responses to “Green Business Ideas – Abandoned coalfields can boost RE and save forest in India.

  1. ecoacre

    April 17, 2014 at 1:18 AM

    Grand idea, back in the 80s concentrating solar was proposed to supplement some of the thermal energy at coal plants. But so many coal plants had been built in the 70s to replace so called dwindling oil and natural gas supplies, that there was, a glut of energy in the United States and so virtually no renewable power was added in the US for 40 years. Now newly found gas is said to be be so cheap and available that utilities are spending billions of dollars to build gigawatts ( spell check corrected this as GIVEAWAYS ) of combustion turbines instead of investing in efficiency, renewable or energy storage systems. We are fighting for sane and humane to overcome crazy cruel environmental and health destroying technologies that only profit the wealthy corporations that have made their money from control of resources and governments.
    I just heard that natural gas prices are starting to rise. Once people are hooked on stuff because its cheap and the competition is gone the prices will rise. Stop the deforestation begin restoration and build renewable generation for your nation on the sites that have already be degraded, polluted and looted.

    • Oyeta936

      April 17, 2014 at 10:33 PM

      Thanks for the insight on the happenings in the USA.
      It is at times sad to see how the political will of a Country and that of its Citizens are so different.
      It makes one wonder as to whether the people we choose to govern, especially in democracies like in ASIA, EU or America; are the actual reflection of the aspirations of common man.
      For where it so, then the politicians would have been more climate responsive.
      Or is it that only a very tiny fraction of the Human population recognise Climate Change as a clear and present danger? And thus the policies which governments take are more tilted towards unsustainable practices?
      Unless this core issue is answered and perhaps a survey at international level done, it would be difficult to have a climate change lobby powerful enough to bring in lasting solutions any time soon.
      For in real-politick both the politician and the corporate czars bow to superior numbers.


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