ADVANCED COAL TECHNOLOGIES
IN ENERGY EDUCATION AND RESEARCH
Ajit Kumar Kolar* and M.V.J.J. Suresh
Heat Transfer and Thermal Power Laboratory, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai – 600 036, India
Phone: +91-44-22574653, Fax: +91-44-22570509
National Energy Sovereignty is an ideal to be aimed at while pursuing the route of energy security /
independence. Development of Advanced Coal Technologies (ACT) for the abundant, proven indigenous coal
reserves forms an essential component of this pursuit. Keeping this in view, the availability of qualified “Energy
Manpower” is to be ensured through education, awareness and training programmes. A full-fledged M.Tech
programme in ACT must be developed in a phased manner with the first step being the introduction of a User
Oriented Programme (UOP) in collaboration with power industry. Some changes are needed in the existing UG
and PG curricula for introduction of ACT as a core / elective. Term projects and focused research activities on
coal technologies at the PG and Ph.D levels are to be encouraged. A National Energy Institute and several
dedicated National Coal Laboratories need to be established. All efforts must be made by Government-Industry-
Institute consortium to bring indigenous coal to the center stage of our National Power Scenario.
Keywords: Advanced Coal Technologies, Energy Education, Coal R and D
Energy availability fuels the economic growth of a country and in particular power (electricity) is the prime
mover of rapid industrial growth. Presently, the total installed power generating capacity is about 1,25,000 MWe
with coal-based thermal power plants comprising 55% of the total (Ministry of Power, 2006). The share of
hydro, gas, and nuclear power is about 26%, 11%, and 3% respectively. Renewable power sources like biomass,
wind, and solar are also being tapped in isolated places on a small scale with a share of 5%. India needs
increasing amounts of power to meet the aspirations of the vast majority of the society to accomplish high
standards of living. However this should be achieved with the least damage to the environment and at a
reasonable cost. Thus, Energy, Environment, Economics and even Employment are inter-related. Coal will be the
major source of power even several decades from now. It is expected that it will contribute about 42% of the
world electricity consumption by 2030 and even a higher percentage for India (EIA, 2006).
1.1 Energy sovereignty
In the wake of realizing huge energy requirements, concept of energy security / energy independence is being
highlighted in the international energy arena. According to United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP, 2001), energy security is defined as “the continuous availability of energy in varied forms, in sufficient
quantities and at affordable prices”. Along with this, however, it is useful to emphasize the ideal of Energy
Sovereignty, which is defined here as “availability, accessibility and control of both, the energy resources and
the utilization technology”. In particular, development of indigenous technology for indigenous sources needs to
be preferred and pursued, complemented when only essential, by absorption / adaptation of appropriate imported
1.2 Fuel reserves
The fuel resources and fuel-based installed power capacity in India are presented in Table 1. Though there is an
increased emphasis on renewable energy in the recent past due to the problem of global warming associated with
fossil fuels, it is clear that in the short to medium terms the large-scale power requirements can be met only by
the continued use of non-renewable resources. Presently social barriers hinder the promotion of hydro and
nuclear power. Import of oil and gas can only be a short-term measure. Fortunately, India has huge reserves of
high quality (< 0.6% sulphur) and low grade (40-45% mineral matter) coal. Hence, There Is No Alternative
(TINA factor) to the use of coal as the “Power fuel” of the Indian Power Sector at least for the next several
Advances in Energy Research, 2006 1
decades and may be even beyond that. Current coal-based thermal power plants in India rely on pulverized coal
combustion in sub-critical boilers, which have limited efficiency and unacceptable emission levels. The option
left to us is to develop efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable Advanced Coal Technologies
for this black, dirty but rich natural source of energy, chemicals, and fuels.
Table 1. Major power resources and installed power capacity
Production Installed Power Capacity (MWe)
Resource Proven reserves
(2005-06) (as on May 31, 2006)
Coal 95 BT 343 MT 68,500 (all sub-critical)
Crude oil 740 MT 32 MT 1,200 (diesel)
Gas 920 BCM 32 BCM 12,700
Uranium: 78,000 tonnes
Nuclear - 3,360
Thorium: 5,18,000 tonnes
Hydro 1,50,000 MWe - 32,300
Biomass 85,000 MWe - 7,000
Source: Ministry of Coal, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources
and Ministry of Power, 2006
2. Advanced Coal Technologies (ACT) for power generation
Increasing power demands and environmental concerns necessitate the future power plants to operate at high
efficiency with low emissions. ACT should address both the issues simultaneously by broadly encompassing all
coal utilization technologies with inherent / integrated pollution control technologies for SOx, NOx, Particulate
matter, CO2 and Mercury.
Advanced Coal Technologies are those, which would permit power generation in an efficient, environmentally
friendly and economically viable manner. As tabulated below, an ACT is comprised of a judicious combination
i) Heat Release Technology (HRT),
ii) (Released) Heat Utilization Technology (HUT), and
iii) Emissions Control Technology (ECT)
HRT HUT ECT
Direct combustion of solid coal: Sub-critical Rankine cycle
i. (Conventional) Pulverized Coal Super-critical Rankine cycle
ii. (Proven) Fluidized Bed Combustion Ultrasupercritical Rankine cycle
iii. (Emerging) Oxy-Fuel Combustion Combined cycle with Pressurized
Appropriate technologies to
control the formation and
emission of SOx, NOx, CO2,
Thermo-chemical combustion of coal-
Integrated Gasifier Combined particulate matter, alkali and trace
derived gases (through Gasification in
Cycle (IGCC) elements like Mercury, and other
Moving bed / Fluidized bed / Entrained
Hybrid (atmospheric) Fuel Cell –
Electro-chemical combustion of coal-
derived gases Hybrid (pressurized) Fuel Cell –
Gas Turbine – Steam Turbine
Further, coal availability for power generation may be enhanced by resorting to Coal Bed Methane (CBM) and
Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) (in the coal mines itself) which could be considered as complementary
aspects of ACT.
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3. Energy education
Energy is a fundamental input into the national and global economic development and hence should obviously be
a vital part of technical education. Further, as in the case of Information Technology (IT) and Biotechnology
(BT) which attained prominence when there was a need for them and they caught the imagination of the youth,
the time has now come for Energy Technology (ET) to take its well deserved position not only in the corridors of
the technical education system but also in the hearts and minds of the engineering fraternity, the bureaucracy,
and the people at large. In fact it would be advisable for the nation to recognize Energy and Environment
Technology (EET) as the foundation on which all other Technologies are supported. This will lead to the
conclusion that EET must occupy an important part of our technical education programme at both UG and PG
levels including fundamental and applied research. A few institutes have indeed taken the lead by identifying
energy as a special field and offering academic programmes which culminate in B.Tech, M.Tech, Dual (B.Tech
and M.Tech), and Ph.D Degrees in the field of Energy. While this is a satisfactory development, there is a need
to expand these programmes to a larger number of technical institutions to meet the future demands of “Energy
Manpower” at a global level.
A perusal of the energy curriculum in several institutions in the country reveals that great emphasis is placed on
Renewable Energy Sources and Technologies (REST). A major reason for this is the proactive role played by the
government through the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources which created wide spread awareness
about REST through workshops, seminars, conferences and other continuing education programmes and also
promoted the deployment of REST by various training programmes and policy initiatives including subsidies.
This is justifiable considering the fact that it is essential to increase the share of REST in the coming years to
maintain environmental cleanliness and if possible completely shift over to REST in the very long term.
However, it is now well established by energy organizations like International Energy Agency, World Coal
Institute, US Department of Energy and our own Planning Commission that fossil fuels (Coal, Oil and Gas) will
continue to contribute heavily to the total energy and power scenario beyond 2030, possibly even beyond 2050.
In particular there will be a substantial increase in the global use of coal to meet the burgeoning power
requirements of the future. In such a scenario it is extremely important that our Energy Manpower be familiar
with coal technologies in general and Advanced Coal Technologies in particular. Formal education, awareness,
and training programmes in ACT are the concurrent steps to be taken in this direction.
4. ACT in energy education
One of the important objectives of the academic programme should be to sensitize human resource to the
importance of coal and ACT. As mentioned earlier ACT should be thought of as comprising of both, coal
utilization technologies and the associated pollution control technologies. Hence, both these aspects of ACT
must be addressed in the UG and the PG programmes, at different levels. Further, enhanced emphasis needs to be
placed in the area of ACT in the mandatory projects (as a degree requirement) at the UG, PG levels and the
projects taken up at the PhD levels. ACT requires interdisciplinary approach involving several science and
engineering disciplines like Chemistry, Chemical, Mechanical, Material Science, Metallurgy, and Manufacturing
Engineering. The courses should also include important aspects of environmental impact, energy economics, and
4.1 UG Programme
The topic of Combustion along with the subjects of Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics, and Heat Transfer is the
foundation of thermal engineering, which is generally considered as a part of Mechanical Engineering.
Additionally, combustion is recognized as the ultimate process of energy extraction from fossil fuels especially
for thermal power generation. Hence, knowledge of the fundamentals of coal combustion will certainly enhance
the capability of students in applying / designing appropriate ACT. Some institutes do offer a course on Fuels
and Combustion in the Mechanical Engineering curriculum. However, very little emphasis is laid on the
fundamentals of combustion of solid fuels. This drawback must be set right by incorporating a course on
“Introduction to Combustion and Gasification of Fuels” as a semester core course in the Mechanical and
Chemical Engineering branches with special reference to coal. This introductory course should also include an
introduction to the advanced technologies of Fluidized Bed Combustion, Oxy-fuel Combustion, and Coal
Gasification, which is nothing but incomplete combustion.
The advanced technology of supercritical steam based power plant is covered in the existing “Power Plant
Technology / Engineering” core course for Mechanical Engineers. On the practical side, it will be useful to
introduce the students to a preliminary thermal design of a pulverized coal fired boiler especially under
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supercritical steam conditions. This will give the students a realistic picture of the power plants with the
associated configuration of the coal combustion equipment.
An elective course should be introduced on “Advanced Coal Technologies” incorporating the theoretical and
practical details and also introducing “system analysis” of various coal-based power generation schemes. This
course may be the same as the core course on Advanced Coal Technologies of the M.Tech curriculum.
Where term projects requiring experimental work are not possible, projects on power generation system analysis
using commercial software packages should be taken-up. Additionally in-house development of theoretical
models for individual components could be taken up by successive batch of students with the aim of developing
an integrated system model over a period of time. While this would result in trained student manpower for
employment in the power-related industry, it will also help the faculty in their research activities.
4.2 PG Programme
At the PG level, some institutes are already offering Energy as a specialization with emphasis on Renewable
Energy. It is suggested that the curriculum may ensure the inclusion of at least one core course on ACT, with a
typical syllabus as given in Table 2. Courses like Theory and Technology of Combustion and Gasification
(emphasizing thermal design), Fluidized Bed Technology, and Energy Economics can be introduced as electives.
It is of course understood that a course on Emission Control Technologies is an integral part of any PG
programme on Energy.
Table 2. Typical syllabus for a course on ACT
Sl No. Topic No. of hrs.
1 Introduction to coal and its 5
2 Coal beneficiation 5
3 Advanced combustion and 15
gasification of coal
4 Advanced power plant cycles and 10
4-E system analysis
5 Emission control technologies with 5
emphasis on CO2 capture
It is not possible to include all aspects of ACT in a broad based PG programme on Energy as existing now.
Hence, it is worthwhile to seriously consider the introduction of a dedicated M.Tech programme in ACT for
which a detailed curriculum can be drawn up. However, this can be implemented after some experience with a
dedicated User Oriented Programme (UOP) on ACT.
4.3 User Oriented Programme (UOP) on ACT
Power industries should collaborate with academic institutes to start UOPs on ACT so that qualified “Energy
Manpower” can be developed using expertise of academic faculty with practical inputs from industry. In a full-
fledged two year M.Tech programme on ACT, student selection and curriculum development will be jointly
decided by the industries and institutes. This programme will also encourage faculty in premier institutes to come
together for focused, interdisciplinary development in the area of ACT which is presently being done to some
extent in an isolated and individualistic fashion. Further, it will generate awareness and enhance the image of
coal technologies among the students and faculty of the institutes where they are held. It will also provide trained
manpower to the industry. Such UOP programmes on topics selected by the industry are already being operated
in some institutes successfully. Hopefully a UOP in ACT will lead in the long term to a full-fledged conventional
M.Tech programme in ACT.
4.4 Laboratory course
In conjunction with classroom lectures on the theory of coal utilization, an experimental programme will assist
the UG and the PG students in verifying their theoretical knowledge and developing practical skills, which are
essential to an engineer. This can be achieved through a coal laboratory “course” with typical experiments as
listed in Table 3. These experiments should be preferably conducted in a single dedicated coal laboratory or in
different laboratories of the institute depending on the availability of experimental equipment with proper
instrumentation and control which need substantial funding. All efforts must be made to have a dedicated coal
laboratory, as distinct from the existing energy laboratory, with the active co-operation and contribution of
government agencies and the power industry. This will also enhance the interaction of expert faculty from
different departments and promote inter-disciplinary coal based programmes.
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Table 3. Typical laboratory course
Sl No Experiments
1 Determination of Calorific Value and development of
2 Sieve analysis for coal / ash particle size determination
3 Combustion in a 10 cm dia FBC
4 Gasification in a 10 cm dia gasifier
5 Co-combustion experiments with coal blends, coal and
pet coke, coal and biomass
6 Combustion in a drop tube furnace
7 Thermo gravimetric analysis
8 Proximate and Ultimate analysis
9 Studies on ash (fusion point and agglomeration
characteristics) for various coals
10 Fluidization characteristics in a 10 cm dia FB
4.5 Capacity building
To implement a meaningful academic programme on ACT it is necessary to have faculty who are aware of the
importance of coal technologies and are equipped to teach it. A concerted effort must be made to recruit at least
one expert in coal-related technologies as faculty in leading engineering institutes. Premier institutes should
promote awareness among existing engineering faculty through seminars, workshops and conferences with
support from the Government of India and the Power industry. Continuing education programmes of 1-2 week
duration may be held for engineering faculty on a periodic basis. Video tapes of a full-fledged course on ACT
prepared by experts can also be distributed to various engineering colleges. In addition, booklets and
monographs on ACT may be prepared by experts for distribution.
5. Coal R and D
While it is acceptable to import high grade (but low quality) coal and appropriate technologies for the short-term
requirement, on a medium to long term basis India has to concentrate on developing power generation
technologies suitable to indigenous low grade, high quality coal. Indigenous technology development gives
tremendous experience and confidence to our engineers and technologists to tackle future challenges in the area
of energy. Indiscriminate import of technology will stunt our thinking ability and creativity, prevent knowledge
accumulation through hands-on experience, promote a sense of dependence on others to develop technology for
us, develop a laissez-faire attitude towards R and D, and prevent young minds from taking up a research career.
This would inevitably result in long term “energy insecurity” which we are actually trying to avoid!
Considering the importance of coal technologies, the R and D activities in the country on ACT are less than
satisfactory. This drawback needs to be set right with a focused, goal-oriented, and time-bound R and D
programme. Basic theoretical and applied experimental research should be encouraged in academic institutions
in all aspects of ACT. Technology development in collaboration with the power industry must be encouraged. In
this connection, the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) (2006) of the Planning Commission has recommended the
setting-up of a National Energy Fund (NEF) to finance energy R and D. The IEP also recommends National
Technology Missions on: i) In-situ underground coal gasification, ii) IGCC, iii) Coal to liquids and / or gasified
coal to liquids, and iv) Carbon sequestration. The IEP also emphasizes recovery of coal bed methane, promotion
of advanced circulating fluidized bed boilers, reduction of SOx / NOx, and particulate emissions to match global
standards. This should be an added fillip for educational institutes to introduce ACT in the curriculum of energy
education and also to promote coal-related R and D.
It is suggested here that a National Coal Board (NCB) may be established to coordinate all aspects of coal, from
mining to utilization. In addition, several National Coal Laboratories (NCL) may be set up in properly chosen
locations with active cooperation from the academic / research institutes and industry, each tackling a well
defined coal technology. A National Energy Institute (NEI) may be formed, manned mainly by researchers from
academia, and industry to act as a forum to promote cooperative research activities in ACT. Under its auspices,
periodic workshop / conference / seminars / summer schools and training programmes may be held. It should
disseminate information through booklets, pamphlets, monographs, and over a period of time, publish a Journal
of Fossil Energy with special emphasis on coal.
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5.1 Barriers to ACT in education
Some of the barriers for inclusion of coal-related courses in energy education programme are:
i) Less than serious efforts by the government and industries to publicize the importance, strengths and
opportunities of coal in the power sector
ii) Non-recognition and lack of awareness of coal as an important and major energy source
iii) Shortage of faculty who have expertise and interest in coal R and D
iv) Inadequate R and D in coal technologies in the country
v) Inadequate power industry-academic institute collaboration
vi) Misplaced perception among students that ‘Energy’ means gas and oil, and coal is a dirty fuel
vii) Expensive instrumentation required for experimentation
viii) Energy sector being seen as a poor employer
ix) Lack of interdisciplinary approach among researchers and faculty, and
x) Lack of glamour and visibility in coal research
Suitable schemes should be devised to overcome these barriers.
6. Final remarks
To develop and implement the indigenous coal technologies for India-specific needs, development of qualified
Energy Manpower is vital. Core and elective courses related to ACT at the UG / PG level must be introduced in
a phased manner, in premier institutes at first and then in all engineering colleges. Academic institutes and the
power industry should be encouraged to start UOPs in Advanced Coal Technologies and also cooperate in coal
R and D in a focused fashion with the support of government agencies. Training and awareness programmes on
Advanced Coal Technologies should be organized for faculties of engineering colleges on a continued basis as a
capacity building measure. A National Energy Institute and several National Coal Laboratories should be set up
to deal with the various aspects of education, R and D of coal technologies.
In short, all efforts must be made by the Government-Industry-Institute consortium to bring indigenous coal to
the centre stage of the National Power Scenario, which appears to have been inadvertently hijacked by imported
oil and gas. “ACT now” must be the rallying slogan for all those who are concerned about the Energy
Sovereignty of the country.
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30th May 2006.
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5. IEA:International Energy Agency, 2003. www.iea.org accessed on 6th July 2006.
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30th July 2006.
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10th October 2006.
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www.envfor.nic.in/cpcb/newsletter/coal/cenvpwr.html accessed on 30th July 2006.
11. UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), 2001, World Energy Assessment: Energy and the
Challenge of Sustainability, UNDP/UNDESA/ WEC, New York.
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