Harnessing 10% Of Coal Bed Methane Reserves Can Cut India's Energy Import Bill: Experts

India can cut its energy imports bill by USD 2 billion if the nation harnesses 10 per cent of the coal bed methane reserves of 2,600 billion cubic meters, said experts.

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India can cut its energy import bill by USD 2 billion if the nation harnesses 10 percent of the coal bed methane reserves of 2,600 billion cubic metres, according to experts.

This assumes significance in view of India's record coal production during the last fiscal year and plans afoot to increase it further.

The experts believe that the industry’s collective efforts in utilising coal bed methane (CBM) can help the country save over USD 2 billion on import bills in the near future. India has an estimated coal bed methane reserve of 2600 billion cubic metres, they say.

India touched a record-high growth in coal production of more than 778.19 million tonne, posting record growth in coal production in the years 2022–23.

"The plan is to increase the production to over one billion metric tonnes by 2025–26." Therefore, we collectively must tap and utilise coal bed methane, which in turn would help reduce emissions and also boost India’s energy security. Even if the industry can tap about 10 percent of the reserves, we can save over $2 billion by cutting oil imports," Dr. J.S. Sharma, Head of the International Centre for Climate and Sustainability Action Foundation (ICCSA), told PTI.

Sharma said the savings would be greater if we were able to tap more CBM reserves. Through ICSSA, we have been making attempts to create awareness about the potential of methane and have conducted workshops for the oil and gas, agriculture, and livestock sectors.

Going forward, the plan is to connect companies related to coal, transport, and waste management in order to share know-how on methane capture, he added.

Talking to PTI, Rakesh Kumar, Officer on Special Duty at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and an advisor at ICSSA, said, "Growth in coal production is directly proportional to the release of methane from mining activities."

"While India relies heavily on coal production from open-cast mines, increasing production may require the adoption of deeper mining of coal seams. If that is the case, utilisation of CMM could be one of the potential energy sources and also have a climate mitigation co-benefit."

Over 56 percent of India’s primary power production is supplied by coal, and this number is expected to grow with India’s population and increasing energy needs. While India is on its path towards building energy security by increasing energy production, methane sequestration and utilisation from coal mining activity can offer mutual benefit, Kumar added.

The prognosticated CBM resources in the country are about 2600 billion cubic metres (BCM) in 12 states of India.

To capitalise on the country's CBM potential, the government enacted a CBM policy in 1997, which mandates the exploration and utilisation of CBM (natural gas).

Utilisation of coal mine methane has the potential to benefit India by reducing emissions and increasing domestic energy security.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas, which is responsible for the Earth’s warming. Methane (CH4) concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled since pre-industrial times. CH4 is the second-leading cause of climate change after carbon dioxide, rising to 1.5 degrees Celsius or likely 2 degrees Celsius.

Alternative fuels like coal bed methane and coal mine methane and alternative uses of coal, such as coal to chemicals, are the thrust areas of the government.

Accordingly, a few companies have laid special emphasis on the implementation of clean coal technology across their business value chain. Methane emissions from Indian coal mines are estimated to be 45 million metric tonnes (Mt) of CO2 equivalent emissions over 20 years, Kumar added.

Government efforts to reduce fossil fuel dependence and promote clean energy led to this growth in coal bed methane production. The government's push for renewable energy, as well as initiatives like the National Clean Energy Fund, can help India achieve its carbon neutrality goal, said Dr. Kumar.