Pakistan explores urea production from Thar coal

Coal Conveyor Belt

The Sindh Coal Authority (SCA) has initiated a pre-investment study to assess the feasibility of converting Thar coal into urea, signaling the government of Sindh Province’s interest in diversifying its coal utilization. This study, estimated at PKR 17.35 million ($62 thousand), is underway by Dr. Farid A Malik, a renowned consultant in the field, and is set to conclude by June 2024.

Early reports from the SCA indicate that Thar coal has the potential to be transformed into gas, liquid, and notably, urea. Initial samples from the Thar coalfield were sent for testing to a laboratory in South Africa, and the outcomes have been both positive and promising. Key findings reveal an ash content of approximately 18%, which is deemed suitable for gasification processes. Furthermore, the CO2 reactivity is consistent with lignite coal, and the Fischer Assay showed high tar yields exceeding 20 mass% on an air-dried basis. While the sulfur content was slightly elevated, it’s not perceived as problematic for gasification. Ash flow temperatures are in the range of 1320-1340°C.

Following the study’s completion, the SCA intends to present its findings to senior government officials to consider the next steps, one of which includes the launch of a Pilot Project or Demonstration Plant. Furthermore, a seminar will be organized to discuss the study’s results, and it will host key government representatives and stakeholders to reach a consensus on subsequent actions, such as the aforementioned Pilot Plant, a Demonstration Plant, and the establishment of a Coal Gasification Policy.

This exploration of coal-derived urea production comes at a critical juncture, given Pakistan’s ongoing energy challenges. Notably, neighboring countries, China and India, are already harnessing similar technology to address their energy needs.

It’s pertinent to highlight that Pakistan boasts a significant coal resource potential, estimated at 185 billion tons. However, the annual production stands at a mere 5 million metric tons, predominantly serving local industries. Thar, located in the Sindh province, houses approximately 175 billion tons of these resources, marking it as one of the world’s largest untapped coal deposits. The coal found here is of the ‘lignite’ quality, possessing a heating value ranging between 5,700-7,300 Btu/lb. The complete exploitation of this deposit could play a pivotal role in addressing the country’s energy requirements.

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