Coal in India

Coal in India


A recent investigative report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, backed by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, has surfaced allegations against the Adani Group. The report claims that in 2014, the Adani Group mislabeled low-grade coal imported from Indonesia as high-quality coal and sold it at inflated prices to Tamil Nadu’s power generation company, TANGEDCO.

  • This incident highlights the critical importance of understanding the different grades of coal and their implications for India’s energy sector, especially given the nation’s heavy reliance on coal for power generation and industrial processes.


GS – 3 (Mineral & Energy Resources)

Status of Coal in India and Background

  • India is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of coal, a pivotal resource for its energy sector.
  • In the fiscal year 2023-24, India produced nearly 997 million tonnes of coal, marking an 11% increase from the previous year.
  • This substantial production is primarily driven by state-owned Coal India Ltd and its subsidiaries.
  • Despite a global push towards renewable energy, coal remains the backbone of India’s electricity generation, with thermal power plants constituting a significant portion of the energy mix. However, the country is gradually making strides towards integrating more renewable sources, evidenced by the recent increase in renewable energy capacity.
  • The Indian coal industry is characterized by a diverse range of coal types, each with distinct properties and applications.
  • The government has historically controlled coal pricing to balance economic, environmental, and energy security objectives. This has influenced the types of coal used in various industries, particularly in power generation.

Difference Between High-Grade and Low-Grade Coal

  • Coal is graded based on its Gross Calorific Value (GCV), which measures the amount of energy produced by burning the coal. Higher-grade coal has a higher GCV, meaning it generates more heat and energy per unit weight. In contrast, lower-grade coal has a lower GCV and typically higher ash content, which affects its efficiency and environmental impact when burned.
  • High-Grade Coal:
    • Characteristics: High carbon content, low ash, and moisture content.
    • Uses: Primarily used in metallurgical processes such as steel production. High-grade coal, also known as coking coal, is essential for producing coke, a key input in steel manufacturing.
    • GCV Range: Generally, high-grade coal has a GCV above 6,000 kcal/kg.
  • Low-Grade Coal:
    • Characteristics: Higher ash and moisture content, lower carbon content.
    • Uses: Predominantly used in power generation due to its abundance and lower cost. It is also referred to as non-coking coal.
    • GCV Range: Typically ranges between 2,200-4,000 kcal/kg.
  • Indian coal is often considered low-grade due to its high ash content and lower calorific value compared to imported coal. The average ash content of Indian coal exceeds 40%, while imported coal has less than 10% ash. This high ash content poses significant environmental challenges, as burning such coal results in higher emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide

Clean Coal

Clean coal technologies aim to reduce the environmental impact of coal usage by minimizing emissions and improving efficiency. Two primary methods are employed to achieve cleaner coal:

  • Coal Washing: Coal washing involves removing impurities such as ash and moisture from the coal. This process enhances the coal’s calorific value and reduces emissions when burned. Washing plants use various techniques, including mechanical separation and flotation, to clean the coal. Although effective, these processes are costly and increase the overall price of coal.
  • Coal Gasification: Coal gasification is a more advanced method that converts coal into syngas—a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. This process involves reacting coal with steam and oxygen at high temperatures, breaking down the carbon molecules. The resulting syngas can be cleaned and used to generate electricity in an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plant. IGCC plants are more efficient than traditional coal-fired plants because they produce both electricity and steam, thereby maximizing energy output from the coal.

Way forward:

The future of coal in India is at a crossroads, shaped by the dual imperatives of meeting energy needs and addressing environmental concerns. Despite commitments to transition towards a more sustainable energy system, coal remains a critical component of India’s energy strategy.

  • Continued Dependency on Coal: India’s energy demand continues to grow, driven by industrialization, urbanization, and economic development. Coal, being a reliable and abundant resource, is likely to remain a significant part of the energy mix in the near to medium term. The country’s coal production is projected to increase, with ongoing investments in mining infrastructure and technology.
  • Shift Towards Renewable Energy: India is making significant progress in expanding its renewable energy capacity. In the first quarter of 2024, renewable energy accounted for 71.5% of the new power generation capacity added, surpassing the share of coal. This shift is part of a broader strategy to reduce carbon emissions and enhance energy security. The government aims to achieve 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030.
  • Adoption of Clean Coal Technologies: To mitigate the environmental impact of coal, India is investing in clean coal technologies. The adoption of coal washing and gasification processes can help reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of coal usage. These technologies are crucial for ensuring that coal remains a viable energy source while meeting environmental standards.
  • Policy and Regulatory Framework: The Indian government is implementing policies to promote cleaner and more efficient use of coal. This includes regulations to control emissions from coal-fired power plants, incentives for adopting clean coal technologies, and support for research and development in this field. The National Clean Coal Technology Mission aims to develop and deploy advanced coal technologies to meet future energy needs sustainably.
  • Balancing Economic and Environmental Objectives: India faces the challenge of balancing its economic growth aspirations with environmental sustainability. Coal plays a vital role in supporting industries and generating employment. However, the environmental costs of coal usage necessitate a strategic approach to transition towards cleaner energy sources without compromising economic development.
  • International Collaboration: Global partnerships and collaboration are essential for advancing clean coal technologies and sustainable energy practices. India is working with international organizations and countries to exchange knowledge, access funding, and implement best practices in coal management and renewable energy integration.