India, has identified new coal reserves in the Gondwana coalfields. The new discoveries will not only expand the country's pool of domestic resources, but help it to remain self-sustained in fulfilling its energy requirements.
As per the Geological Survey of India (GSI) compilation of resources as on 1 Apr '20, geological reserves of coal up to a depth of 1,200 metres have increased to 344,021 million tonnes (mn t), up 5% from 326,496 mn t in 2019.
In a welcome sign, majority of the reserves fall under 'proved' and 'indicated' resources, with only a meagre 30,168 mn t assessed as 'inferred' resources based on geological evidence and sampling, which is sufficient to imply but not verify the geological and grade/quality contained within the coalfields.
Indian coal deposits are broadly classified into two categories: Gondwana and Tertiary coalfields, among which the former accounts for over 98% of the total reserves.
Located in the central and eastern part of the country, Gondwana coalfields belong to the carboniferous period which are nearly 245-570 million years old. The coal is of bituminous to sub-bituminous rank.
On the other hand, Tertiary coal-bearing sediments located in north-eastern India, are about 15-60 million years old. This category is inferior, characterised by high sulphur content, and is present in limited volumes compared to Gondwana coal.
It is important to note that the capacity addition for coal was predominantly carried out in the Gondwana sediments whose reserves have increased from 324,372 mn t in 2019 to 342,397 mn t in 2020. On the other hand, there was no addition in the reserves of tertiary coalfields, which remain unchanged at 1,623 mn t.
Out of the total geological resources, around 98% of the coal reserves are shared by seven states, which are the country's major coal-producing states as well.
Jharkhand remained the top coal-bearing state with reserve of 85,602 mn t, but the highest capacity addition was seen in Chhattisgarh , whose coal reserves have increased by 9,524 mn t, which were added in the Mand-Raigarh and Tatapani-Ramkola coalfields during the year.
Incidentally, Mand-Raigarh is the country's second-largest coalfield behind Talcher coalfields in Odisha.
Another mention in the list is Bihar, whose coal reserves witnessed a 1.5-fold increase to 2,751 mn t in 2020. However, the wait for coal extraction in Bihar continues after Coal India subsidiary-Bharat Coking Coal Ltd (BCCL), surrendered the two allocated coal blocks, Dhulia North and Mirzagaon, located in the state, in view of their poor economics.
What lies ahead?
Taking into account the present production quantam of 716 mn t in 2021-21, the existing coal reserves areexpected to last for another 480 years.
However, despite having huge resources, the country is bound to import coal in view of the scarcity in superior quality .
A lowdown on geological coal resources indicates that the new reserves were identified solely in the non-coking coal band, while no fresh capacity addition was witnessed in coking coal in 2020.
This shows that the country would need to import coking coal to satiate the steel industry's demand. Besides, in non-coking coal too, majority of the volume lies in the low calorific value (CV) band of G9-G14.
Coal demand in the country, particularly from the power sector, was significantly affected by the Covid-induced slowdown. Nevertheless, coal is expected to remain the 'king' in the country's energy mix due to diversity in the demand curve and greater reliability on coal-fired generation.
Moreover, measures have also been put in place to bolster domestic coal demand by promoting import substitution. In a recent development, the country has lifted the export embargo on auctioned coal from CIL, which would help it to gain fair amount of forex in return for the coal.