India boasts major coal reserves – more than 210 gigatons. Coal currently generates over half of India's electricity and is projected to see extremely high growth to 2030. Coal is also a major economic input, a central component to steel, cement, fertilizers, and manufacturing. Furthermore, with nearly half of India's growing population off the grid, any major attempt at rural electrification will require heaps of coal. Compounding these problems is the fact that most of India's coal reserves are physically unavailable using traditional mining techniques.
Therefore, India must find ways to use advanced technology that keeps coal power affordable but also clean. Underground coal gasification is one such advanced technology.
Underground coal gasification is a near commercial technology that may dramatically reduce power costs – even when including carbon dioxide pollution controls such as capture and storage. Therefore technology's power may offer developing countries the opportunity to affordably include capture and storage in the future, while offering developed countries a lower-cost, low-carbon option today.
Underground coal gasification projects are not without challenges, as any advanced power technology must provide significant expansion of electricity generation, be cost competitive, and help improve reliability. Development of underground coal gasification projects requires both commercial sector and government collaboration to focus on key areas, such as project coinvestment, technical issues, and environmental standards.
Today, underground coal gasification projects are under way in China and Australia, with plans for projects in India, the US, and South Africa; only cross-border collaboration, however, will help the development of underground coal gasification and diffusion accelerate in order to contribute to a world with less carbon.