Global Mining: “Coal to remain a significant energy source for decades” – WCA

World Coal Association CEO Benjamin Sporton
World Coal Association CEO Benjamin Sporton

Coal will remain a vital growth enabler and source of energy for decades to come, says World Coal Association CEO Benjamin Sporton.

He notes that demand for coal will remain stable to positive, as a result of increased industrialisation and electrification, especially in Africa and South-East Asia.

“Coal currently provides about 37% of the world’s electricity . . . a figure that hasn’t really changed substantially over the past 20 years . . .”

Sporton notes that, about 20 years ago, coal provided about 40% of the world’s electricity, and has more or less maintained that level, even amid the increasing implementation of renewables, making coal “still a fundamental part of the world’s energy mix”.

The International Energy Agency says that, based on all government policies in place currently, coal will still account for about 27% of the world’s electricity supply by 2040. Moreover, despite a dip in its share of the energy market, coal-based electricity supply is expected to increase by about 9% by 2040, because of increased electrification and growth, as well as industrialisation, in South-East Asia.

“Coal will actually be the single largest energy source in 2040.”

Sporton says that, in Europe and North America, there has been a decline in coal-based electricity supply, largely because of the increased implementation of renewables, driven by the policy imperatives of the European Union and increased competition from shale gas in the US.

“That’s been more than offset by demand for coal and coal-fired electricity in Asia, meaning anywhere from Pakistan to Japan.” Sporton notes that, while demand from China has plateaued, coal demand is increasing in India and the South-East Asia region.

“We’re also seeing increased demand for coal-based electricity in Africa, albeit on a smaller scale . . . specifically South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.”

He also notes that development technology for coal-fired power stations may have a significant impact on demand in the future. “Historically, we’ve built subcritical power stations – older, inefficient technology that produce less energy out of every lump of coal, so to speak . . . Now, what we’re starting to see being built more often is what we call high-efficiency, low-emissions super critical or ultra super critical power plants.”

He notes that the benefits of the latter technologies ultimately amount to attaining better energy value per lump of coal, which results in burning less coal for the same energy output, thereby producing less emissions. Sporton also notes that there are some emissions abatement technologies available, which can be retrofitted into existing power stations.

Metallurgical coal accounts for about 75% of global steel production and steel recycling for the remainder, he adds.

“Coal has been fundamental to making steel for some time and, even though new production technologies are coming on line, coal is still going to be absolutely critical in the manufacturing of new steel because steel demand is increasing as well.”

Sporton says steel demand is attributed to the expectation that about 1.1-billion people will move to cities between now and 2030 in ‘urbanising’ countries like India and Nigeria. He points out that urbanisation requires a lot of steel, cement and concrete for infrastructure and property development purposes, which will ultimately lead to increased demand for metallurgical coal.

“Coal is also an energy source for cement,” he notes, adding that about 85% of cement manufacturers use coal as an energy source. Cement manufacturers are expected to continue using coal-based energy, primarily because it is an “affordable, reliable, accessible” energy source, and it produces fly ash, which is used in cement and concrete

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