The Coming Energy Revolution
    Category: Issues & Ideas By : Nitin Bhat, Frost & Sullivan Read : 1344 Date : Monday, November 04, 2013 - 08:26:40

    Reinhard Krause / Reuters

    Asia leads the world in deploying clean coal technologies, a fact that will become increasingly evident as the world progresses toward the renewable energy goals that have been set for 2015. Asia's predominance is not because of green movements or government commitments to promote renewable energy. Such forces exist in many countries, including China, Japan, and Korea, which together account for 33% of world coal imports and 70% of world coal consumption.

    The driving force behind clean coal applications is the commercial reality that exploiting coal resources requires coal upgrading technology.

    Given the plentitude of natural gas in U.S. shale deposits, the U.S. has a “sotto voce” role on global coal development, like it or not. Indonesia is the second largest coal exporter after Australia, and its coal companies confront the marketing of low rank coals (LRCs) on a regular basis. With over half of Indonesian coal resources in Sumatra, where deposits are characterized by high moisture and low calorific value, the need for coal upgrading technologies is not subject to intellectual or political debate. This is a commercial imperative. 

    U.S. political discussion is characterized by disparate views regarding the importance of coal and therefore lacks coherence, substance and relevance for Asia. Following increasing volatility in oil markets on which the U.S. heavily depends, the government decided a decade or so ago to pursue a policy of energy independence. It started to examine more closely exploitation of internal resources and, in particular, its rich reserves of shale gas using a technique called fracking. A consequence of implementing this policy is a reduction in the use of coal and America, of necessity, has become a natural coal exporter, provided that its transportation logistics permit.

    The largest known coal reserve in the world—the Powder River Basin in Wyoming—must not only compete economically in transportation costs, but in coal quality specifications as well, and that means deploying coal upgrading technologies. Why? Because within the next decade Powder River Basin coal will have to compete with upgraded coal in the world's primary coal market, Asia.

    Reducing emissions through carbon capture and storage, coal gasification, and improved power plant efficiency are worthwhile endeavors, especially for countries whose base load energy requirements have already been fulfilled. Developing existing coal resources, transporting them cost effectively, and controlling the specifications of energy feedstocks is more meaningful still, for every coal-consuming nation, especially those that depend on coal to provide base load energy for their electricity grids. Addressing current and future needs of world coal consumers is about technology and economics, not politics—and that means all of us, but especially China, India, and the rest of Asia.