Indian coal has a high ash content of 35-45 per cent and its combustion causes significant air pollution. The practice of surface mining or open cast mining for coal extraction in the country contributes to the high ash content, as this technology has limitations with regard to the separation of impurities from coal. Owing to the high ash content, the disposal and handling of run-of-the-mine coal become challenging. In this context, coal washing – a process of refining or cleaning coal at a coal washery or a coal plant – offers a solution.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) issued a directive in November 2014 for supplying coal with not more than 34 per cent ash content to thermal power plants (TPPs) located beyond 750 km from the pithead with effect from January 1, 2015 and those located beyond 500 km from the pithead with effect from June 5, 2016. Further, the notification mandated that all new as well as under-expansion opencast projects of 2.5 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) and above capacity, which are not linked to pithead power stations, should be designed with integrated washeries.
Current and upcoming coal washing capacity
Coal India Limited (CIL) operates 15 coal washeries with a total coal washing capacity of about 37 mtpa, of which 11 are for coking coal (20.58 mtpa) and the rest are for non-coking coal (16 mtpa). The total washed coal production from these washeries was 12.45 mt during 2018-19. Apart from CIL, PSUs and private players also operate coal washeries – seven coking coal washeries aggregating 10 mt and 28 non-coking washeries aggregating 80.33 mt. In the coking coal segment, two washeries totalling 3 mtpa in capacity have been set up by Steel Authority of India Limited. The rest are operated by private players – four washeries by Tata Steel (5.66 mt) and one by Durgapur Projects Limited. In the non-coking coal segment, all washeries are operated by private companies – ACB (India) Limited being the largest player with a capacity of 28 mtpa. ACB operates the largest coal washery with a capacity of 12 mtpa at Dipka, Chhattisgarh. Other prominent players include Gupta Collieries and Washeries Limited (18.9 mt), Bhatia International (9.23 mt), Jindal Steel and Power Limited (6 mt) and Indo Unique Flame Limited (5.4 mt).
CIL has proposed to set up 18 coal washeries aggregating 95.6 mt – nine coking coal washeries totalling 28 mt and nine non-coking coal ones aggregating 67.5 mt.
Challenges and the way forward
There is a severe crunch of coal washing capacity in the country. As against an annual production of 675 mt of coal during 2017-18, the coal washing capacity was only around 130 mt. The coal ministry has expressed concerns over delays in the commissioning of new washeries. The reasons for the delays include difficulties in identification of land for washeries and reject handling, time taken for acquisition and possession of sites, and delays in tendering due to limited participation of qualified bidders. Further, there is an absence of commitment from consumers to buy washed non-coking coal due to its value-added selling price.
The government is trying to address these issues through regular monitoring by the Ministry of Coal as well as at the CIL level in order to achieve various milestones for setting up washeries as well as to ensure time-bound clearances, especially from the MoEFCC.
To overcome the problems in the acquisition and possession of land, regular follow-up meetings are held with local authorities and state government bodies at different levels.