Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is there any relation between the Soma mine disaster & thermal power plants?

Dear Readers,

We should keep in mind that the majority of our existing local thermal power plants do not use high calorie coal from underground mines. Open-pit lignite coal with a low calorific value is most commonly used to power existing thermal power plants in generating electricity. The design for power plants firing imported coal is completely different. Here, imported coal comes from the nearest sea port.
Only at the Çatalağzı- B thermal power plant do we fire byproduct wastes of the hard coal "water floating enrichment" process, which has an approx. 3000 kcal/kg LHV (lower heating value). Here, hard coal is water washed, enriched, and delivered to the steel industry, and the remaining poor quality byproduct waste is delivered to the thermal power plant, since it cannot be utilized elsewhere.
You cannot burn imported coal in a thermal power plant which is designed to fire poor quality lignite, similarly you cannot fire poor quality lignite in a thermal power plant that is designed to fire imported coal. The plant designs are completely different.
The Soma Eynez underground mine produces high calorie lignite with a 4000-6000 kcal/kg LHV which is then delivered to iron and steel industries in Aliağa and other nearby industrial zones. The high quality coal is also used for household heating in the winter. We have some use of this high quality coal at thermal power plants but consumption remains very limited.
There is no direct relationship between the high quality coal of Soma Eynez and the nearby Soma thermal power plant. The Soma thermal power plant Unit-B uses poor quality 1500-2200 kcal/kg LHV lignite from open-pit lignite mines elsewhere in the region, mostly from the Soma Deniş open-pit coal fields. This low calorie, poor quality lignite cannot be utilized anywhere other than at the thermal power plants that are designed to fire this lignite coal.
Elbistan Kışlaköy and Çöllolar, Soma Deniş,  Yeniköy, and Kemerköy are similar open-pit coal mines that feed the nearby thermal power plants. On the other hand, at the Çayırhan coal town, there are newly opened underground quarries that are fully mechanized in their mining work. In our country there are a few new locations where we extract high quality coal from underground mine fields in a mechanized fashion and deliver the fuel to adjacent thermal power plants.
The newly commissioned Adularia Yunus Emre Thermal Power Plant, consumes coal from the mines nearby. Here, the underground mine fields produce cheaper mine mouth coal prices with full mechanization and qualified technicians that are employed according to strict safety standards.
Since the nearby open-pit coal fields are about to be depleted in Tunçbilek  Derin  Sahalar (Deep Field), Yatağan Turgut and Yeniköy Karacahisar, next on the agenda of these operations will be their further expansion underground in the search for new mechanized coal investments. Prior to their licensing and investment incentives, we should encourage full mechanization in their new investment spending.
However, each coal field has specific characteristics in that mechanized underground operation may not be suitable at all times. For mechanized investment many parameters are to be evaluated. Investors are to investigate proven reserves, geological structure, hydrogeological situation, as well as properties of rocks, coal thickness, depth, width, slope, etc.
In these new underground mine ventures, we should encourage fully-mechanized operations if applicable, and try to avoid labor-intensive coal production. It would be best if we stayed away from labor-intensive fields that employ shovel production for a while. We know that each coal field site has its own unique design and planning. In this regard, making generalizations is not recommended. The public authorities should impose regulations on expropriation permits and environmental criteria in order to promote safer working environments.
In the Elbistan Çöllolar open-pit low calorie lignite mine fields, we faced the misfortune of landslides due to ignorance of safe working standards. This resulted in casualties, whose causes are yet to be clarified.
The Yeniköy and Kemerköy open pit coal excavations have depleted the coal fields, and their natural structures have changed. Here, land filling, leveling, and planting for agriculture purposes remain unfinished.
Moreover, the Yatağan fields produce coal with high levels of radioactivity and continues to have problems in solving on-site ash dam accumulation. Other thermal power plants and coal mines are mostly open pit. With this method, the soil on top of the mine field is removed and the extracted coal is sent to nearby power plants with conveyor belts, buckets, etc.
Mechanized practices are more easily applied in open fields. We do not face the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning as can be the case with deep underground labor intensive mining. But here, outdoor operation problems are different and can include landslides and mine subsidence. Random and widespread coal fires are another danger. Different safety measures are necessary in open-pit coal mines.
In low calorie coal firing thermal power plants, the first ignition in the boiler combustion chamber is provided by fuel oil burners (no.6). This design is made to burn the low calorie lignite in bulk quantities. In these boilers you cannot fire natural gas in lieu of fuel oil (no.6).
Currently we have reached an overall 65-GWe installed capacity. However, this figure is misleading seeing that it includes thermal power plants that are no longer in operation. For example, Afsin-A, with a 4x340 MWe capacity, is in operation but with one unit only, and this unit only has a 70% availability. Its other three units do not work.
The Afsin-B plant has the same four-unit capacity, but here only two-units are running, the other two-units are defective, they do not work.
Their repair has not been completed for the last 2-years. Tunçbilek 1-2-3 does not work. Soma-A does not work. The Hopa plant with a 2x25 MW capacity also does not work.
The Kemerköy-Yeniköy thermal power plants have 50% availabilities, meaning that they are operating at half of their total capacities. Nonetheless, we incorporate all of these inoperative unit capacities in our total installed capacity figures. This is not correct. We are fooling ourselves. Our thermal power plants have completed their normal lifetimes. They have low efficiencies and low availabilities. They are unable to run uninterrupted. Serious rehabilitation programs should be enforced.
In fact, more precisely, it would be better to remove all of these old thermal power plants, demolish them, and sell their scraps in a short amount of time. It is much more efficient, more profitable, and more feasible to install new thermal power plants which are designed with new technology, new environmental equipment, bigger dust filters, better flue gas desulphurization, and bigger ash dams.
We know that it is difficult to find financing after a privatization auction. Project finance is always difficult. Investors face project financing problems prior to taking full ownership of an energy investment. 
Since the plants are sold with full ownership, there are other investment options to choose from. In the extreme case, at Kemerköy seaside plant, you could build a Ro-Ro sea port, a marina-style summertime vacation resort.
You could build a new thermal power plant for fire imported coal, or imported LNG, or investigate if you could build a nuclear power plant. Plant transmission lines are already available. High-voltage switchgear facilities are ready. All you have to do is to apply for investment incentives and licensing in accordance with Energy Market Law No. 6446. These investment and production licenses are mandatory.
The investor will need a period of 24-36 months for the receipt of the necessary licenses. The investor can continue electricity generation at the old plant to ensure cash inflow until obtaining these licenses.
We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. Our hearts go out to those families whose loved ones passed in the Manisa Soma mine tragedy. Our thoughts continue to be with the people of Soma County.

Ankara, 29 May, 2014
Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public and, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as a freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of METU Alumni and the Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.


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