India’s coal crisis, manifested as import surge, fuel shortage at power stations and absence of coal linkages with power plants, needs tackling at multiple levels. While superior mining technology, especially for underground mining, is one way to augment output, high-tech boilers can help reduce fuel consumption at power plants significantly.
State-run power major NTPC will conduct trial runs of an 800-MW advanced ultra super-critical (AUSC) boiler at its Dadri plant in Uttar Pradesh early next year, which, according to people working on the project, will allow for 15% fuel savings.
What’s important about the project is that the technology involved is totally indigenous. As NTPC installs the AUSC unit, it will mark the fruition of a three-year collaborative research and development (R&D) project between public sector electrical equipment manufacturer BHEL, facing tough competition from Chinese counterparts, and Chennai-based Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research (IGCAR).
Sources said the government will soon release R400 crore to the BHEL-IGCAR venture, in addition to R100 crore disbursed following the budget 2014-15. While the government’s outlay for the R&D project is R1,200 crore, matching contributions are made by BHEL and NTPC.
“While four to five other countries are also doing R&D for ultra-super critical boilers, these have only academic value yet, with commercialisation a distant possibility. In contrast, the indigenous technology is soon going to be of practical use to us given the projected growth for coal-fired power plants,” a government official said.
IGCAR has been developing material for the 800-MW AUSC boilers that can operate at a pressure of 310 bar (a measure of steam pressure) and at a temperature of 710 degrees Centigrade. BHEL is involved in the designing and manufacturing of the boiler, which, if found successful, would herald a major technological transformation.
Successful development of the boiler would give BHEL a new and unique profile, which will help the state-run behemoth to compete with much nimbler and cheaper Chinese power equipment manufacturers. BHEL has been unable to meet the rising demand for superior-technology power units (its order book remains full), opening a huge window of opportunity for Chinese equipment makers. Many independent power producers find Chinese equipment cost-effective given that they grab projects by participating in tariff-based bidding.
AUSC technology will also help India to meet its multilateral commitments on curbing use of fossil fuels and regulating the carbon intensity of the country’s gross domestic product.