Nigeria sees coal as potential source of energy

Jan 24, 2012 12:00 AM

by Gregory Mmaduakolam

Coal was discovered in commercial quantities in Udi, near Enugu, over a century ago, in 1909 to be precise. In 1950, however, the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC) was established by the Federal Government and charged with the responsibility of exploring, developing, and exploiting the country's coal resources.
The discovery of coal was then a source of joy to many citizens, as coal was the main source of energy in most countries across the world since petroleum was then relatively unknown globally.

After the coal discovery in Udi, the mineral was eventually discovered in some states, including Abia, Anambra, Imo, Kogi, Delta, Plateau, Ebonyi, Gombe, Benue, Edo, Bauchi, Cross River and Adamawa.
In view of the discovery of new coal deposits, the NCC increased its coal production in the Enugu mines from 583,487 tons to 905,397 tons between 1950 and 1959. The appreciable increase in coal production provoked the establishment of coal-fired plants in Orji River, Enugu State, and in some other places. The coal was also used to power coal-fired locomotives and cement production plants, among others.

The situation soon changed, particularly because of the 1966-1970 Nigerian Civil War, which drastically affected coal production in the country, as production plummeted to less than 100,000 tons in the 1980s as a result of the war.
The discovery of petroleum and the advent of gas-powered engines and machines in the 1970s further affected Nigeria's coal production in a negative way. Prior to oil and gas, coal was the main source of energy for virtually all the economies across the world, as home appliances, industrial plants and electricity generation plants vastly relied on the use of coal.

In view of the current energy crisis facing Nigeria, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan initiated a Power Sector Reform Agenda, which was partly hinged on the use of coal as an alternative source of energy.
The President, who underscored the need to use available energy sources such as coal, hydro, wind, solar and biomass to tackle the energy crisis; pledged his administration's determination to end the crisis by exploiting the potential of alternative power sources.

While unveiling the roadmap for power sector reforms, Jonathan stressed that the country's coal resources would be used to power electricity plants in states such as Gombe, Kogi, Enugu and Benue. He also said that private companies would be encouraged to build gas-fired and hydro-power plants, while the Federal Government would enhance the access of potential investors in the power sector to credit facilities.
Jonathan said that under the power sector reforms agenda, the thermal generating plants of the PHCN would be privatised via the sale of a minimum of 51 % equity to core investors with established technical and financial ability to operate and expand each plant.

Besides, Vice President Namadi Sambo re-echoed government's plans to exploit the use of coal and other energy sources in electricity generation at the launch of the Roadmap for Power Sector Reforms in Abuja last August.
"In view of the high capital costs and long lead times required to develop commercial power generation through solar, wind, nuclear and biomass, the Federal Government will focus its development efforts on hydro, coal and natural gas," he said.

Mr Musa Sada, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, also underscored the government's resolve to fully exploit the potential of coal, while speaking during the inauguration of the Nigeria Mining Cadastre Office last year.
"Already, coal has been admitted into the nation's energy mix as it would be used for coal-fired electricity power generating plants," he said. The minister also noted that coal could also be used for domestic purposes, particularly in the production of coal briquettes for cooking.

Sada, however, noted that some of the constraints limiting the development of the coal industry included inadequate financial resources to procure equipment such as drilling rigs, laboratory equipment and transit vehicles.
He also identified inadequate manpower development as one of the factors hindering the actualisation of the industry's development goals and solicited increased funding by the government and stakeholders to aid the development of the coal sector.

Analysts say that tangible efforts should be directed at stimulating coal development and utilisation in pragmatic ways, adding that the country's vast coal reserves underscore the need for such action.
For instance, Mrs Deizani Alison-Madueke, the former Minister, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, said that Nigeria had estimated coal reserves of 2,734 mm tons and inferred reserves of 391.42 mm tons, located across the country.

"Coal remains the most important fuel for power generation worldwide and it will remain so for decades to come," Alison-Madueke said at the 2009 ministerial news briefing.
"Industrialised nations of Europe, Asia and North America effectively utilise coal for their electricity-generating facilities and the Federal Government has endorsed coal for the country's energy mix, as part of its determination to meet our short-term and long-term energy requirements."

Efforts to improve electricity supply in the country through coal-fired plants, received a boost when Skipper and Energy Company, a firm operating in the Middle East, India, Switzerland and Ghana, announced in 2010, plans to establish two coal-fired power plants in Nigeria by 2013.
Mr Jitender Sachdeva, the company's President, said that the plants, which would cost about $ 1.5 bn, would be sited in Odu and Abocho in Kogi State, using coal from nearby Okaba and Ogbogbo coal mines where the company had concessions. Sachdeva, who disclosed this in an interview in Abuja in 2011, said that each of the coal-fired plants would have the capacity of generating 500 MW of electricity.

Mr Jonathan Ikeazor, the Registrar of Council of Nigeria Mining Engineers and Geoscientists (COMEG), voiced support for the use of coal-fired plants to generate more electricity for the citizens.
"The crisis bedevilling Nigeria's energy sector at present could be solved by using coal as an alternative avenue of generating electricity in the country," he said.

Stressing that coal could be found in about 11 states across the country, Ikeazor noted that the technology for coal power plants was not as complicated as that of gas plants, nuclear power plants and hydro power plants, among others. The registrar recalled that Nigeria used to generate power from coal at Orji River in the 1970s, as the thermal plant there was generating electricity for the people of eastern Nigeria.
"Therefore, it is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria, as we have been using coal to produce electricity," he added.

Ikeazor stressed that coal could be used to generate electricity in-situ for neighbourhoods around the mining site, adding that such arrangements were cheaper than other energy projects as there would be no need to transport coal to other places for use in plants. He also noted that the cost of establishing coal-fired plants was quite cheaper than building other plants like nuclear power plants and hydro power plants.
"All that is needed in building a coal-fired power plant is just to put in place transmission lines to national grid and distribute electricity to the public," he said.

Ikeazor, nonetheless, stressed that coal mining and uses could only thrive in the nation, if the government resolved to give it the priority attention it deserved. He said that foreign entrepreneurs would be encouraged to invest in Nigeria's coal sector if it was fully developed like those of Ghana, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa.
Ikeazor bemoaned the neglect of the country's coal sector by successive governments and private investors, expressing happiness that the Jonathan-administration was trying to revitalise industry to attract foreign and local investors. He said that apart from its use in power generation, several products could also be derived from coal, adding that it could be used for domestic purposes such as cooking food and fuel for pressing irons.

He said that coal could also be used in making coke used by industries, adding that the coke also contained liquids such as benzol -- an active ingredient of benzene which is added to gasoline to make automobile engines work better. Ikeazor said that coal was used in making detergents and insecticides while coal tar was used in road construction, adding that coke -- charcoal made from coal -- was mainly used for smelting iron ores. He also said that ammonium compounds in coal were used for making fertilisers and other products.
"Once you can show investors that you have coal, lead or zinc in commercial quantities they will show interest," he said, adding: "So, coal should be contributing significantly an appreciable percentage of our energy mix in Nigeria sooner than later."

Mr Akin George, the President of Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society (NMGS), said that Nigeria's sub-bituminous coals and lignite were among the best in the world because of their low ash, low sulphur, and high calorific values. George, who said this at the 7th annual NMGS series held in Abuja last year, stressed that the country's coal, apart from its high export potential, could be used to generate electricity and produce smokeless coal briquettes for cooking.
He lamented Nigeria was no longer producing coal due to factors such as the dearth of the enabling infrastructure and the flooding of the underground Onyeama and Opara mines.

George stressed that foreign investors had lost interest in the development of the country's coal resources partly because of the deficient infrastructure and the lack of adequate and reliable data for investment purposes.
He noted that Nigeria lost the opportunity presented by the Ghanaian government in 2000 to execute its smokeless coal project at Enugu.

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