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Building capacity on sustainable coal mine methane utilization practices

By mid-century, India’s economy will grow five-fold, according to te goverment’s projections. India will become the most populous country in the world, with over 1.6 billion people, up from the current 1.25 billion.  These additional 350 million people will be absorbed almost entirely by cities, lifting the rate of urbanization from 33 to 60 per cent. These trends will increase India’s demand for energy at an even higher rate. 

Since 2000, energy consumption in India has almost doubled. However, the country’s energy demand per capita still represents a modest one-third of the world average, in line with its ranking in the world’s GDP per capita. Consequently, India’s thirst for energy is forecast to grow rapidly. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), India is expected to contribute over 25 per cent of the future rise in global energy demand.

The sustainability of India’s rapid development hinges largely on the ability of its energy sector to keep up with this rise in demand. This will be a challenging task, since this will require India to quadruple the size of its power system by mid-century.

Having made ambitious climate pledges, the Indian Government is showing an increasing interest in clean sources of energy. Today, approximately 70 GW comes from renewables (45 GW from hydropower and 23 GW from wind power). With significant expansion of solar power capacity planned, this will grow to as much as 175 GW in 2022 (without large hydropower).

However, coal does and will continue to play a crucial role in the country’s energy mix. Currently, 75 per cent of India’s energy demand is met by fossil fuels and this figure continues to rise as the ratio of solid biomass traditionally used for cooking decreases. By 2040, coal demand in India will be two-and-a-half-times higher than it is today. As a result, the country will not only become the world’s largest importer of coal, but will also significantly increase domestic production.

Despite the importance of coal to India’s economy, up until recently the issue of the effective management of coal mine methane (CMM) has not been given adequate attention. It is estimated that 44 major coal and lignite field in 12 states of India contain some 3.4 trillion cubic metres of methane, which if utilized correctly could be a major source of energy. A number of the abandoned coal mines also contain methane, the extraction of which could regenerate mining in those areas. While the feasibility of utilizing methane recovered during, before and/or after coal mining has been proven by a project conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), and the Indian Ministry of Coal, its outcome has not yet translated into a meaningful increase in commercial activity.

To increase the visibility of the issue and capture the attention of local stakeholders, the UNECE Group of Experts on CMM is organizing an International Workshop on Best Practices in Methane Drainage and Use in Coal Mines in Ranchi, Jharkhand, 9-10 March. The event, which is carried out under a project funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, is being held in cooperation with the Government of India - Ministry of Coal, Coal India Limited - Central Mine Planning & Design Institute, and the Global Methane Initiative.

The workshop will promote best practices that ensure not only optimized use of methane but also safe mining activities and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Discussions will focus on assessment of methane resources in coal seams as well as utilization of CMM for energy production. Potential CMM resources and development projects will be examined using the United Nations Framework Classification for Energy and Mineral Resources (UNFC), a standard developed by UNECE. Such an approach will aid the channelling of investments and decrease GHG emissions.

Coal will continue to be used in India, hence raising awareness on the need for sustainable and effective management of CMM is critical to ensure that its extraction is carried out in a safe, efficient and environmentally-friendly manner. The results of the workshop will be shared at the 12th session of the UNECE Group of Experts on CMM, 24–25 October, to ensure that UNECE’s Best Practice Guidance for Effective Methane Drainage and Use in Coal Mines continues to evolve.

For further information on UNECE’s work on CMM, please visit: www.unece.org/energy/se/cmm.html or contact michal.drabik@unece.org