Solving India’s air pollution challenges with simple solutions

On 13-15 November, Dr Andrew Minchener (General Manager of the IEACCC) and I entered the smog of New Delhi to present and chair at the three-day 19th International Coal Preparation Congress organised by the Coal Preparation Society of India held at the Indian Habitat Centre in New Delhi.

I opened the Expo with a presentation on the ‘Economic and strategic value of coal’, which accompanies the recent release of my latest report. My presentation focussed on the potentially life-changing impact that reliable electricity supplies can have on millions of people, even from a single power project like the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Plant. A presentation by Dr Minchener gave the Expo the latest news on high-efficiency, low-emission (HELE) developments around the world, which are progressing across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Both presentations were warmly received and provided the delegates who were largely focused on coal preparation with exciting new data and trends in the wider coal market.

While all this was going on, pollution levels were severe; schools were closing, curfews for children introduced, and face masks became increasingly common. It was difficult to pinpoint any single cause of the legendary Delhi smog, but combustion and still winds left fine particulates hanging in the air for days, the worst often being seen in the morning. Fingers pointed to crop stubble burning, which is common in October and November, and road transportation. During the Congress, the roads quietened as vehicle entry into Delhi was restricted and odd and even licence plates were permitted on alternating days, yet pollution still shrouded the city. Industry and power generation were sure to be other, albeit smaller, contributors and made the event on coal preparation and ash cleaning in coal even more relevant.

In India, only 20% of the coal produced is washed, compared with 90-100% in Australia and Poland. India has just 37 coal preparation plants, a very small number considering it is the world’s second largest coal market. At more than 760 Mt, the country has ambitions to push production to 1000 Mt in coming years. The number of washeries must surely increase to process the notoriously high ash coals found in India.

One of the first targets for washing is the country’s coking coal production, but that’s only a small proportion of the market; 90% is steam coal used for power generation and in industry. This plus the tonnage that is mined illegally, means the urgency to expand coal preparation is growing.

The IEACCC will continue to share their expert knowledge with countries and sectors struggling to get to grips with providing sustainable and reliable energy in the cleanest way. Where coal is being used, the IEACCC can show there is nearly always a better way.

For more information on this topic, see the report The economic and strategic value of coal, CCC/296.