Pet Coke: Will the industry cash in?
The cement industry was looking for brighter days ahead, considering the potential that pet coke has as a fuel. But with a statutory ban on the usage of the commodity hanging fire, a few environmental concerns need to be addressed before pet coke utilisation comes of age.
Pet coke is solid carbonaceous residue produced by thermal decomposition of heavy petroleum fractions. It is used as a fuel for the cement industry and also for power generating units. In comparison to Indian coal which is being made available to our cement plants, pet coke - either local or imported - is better in properties as a fuel. It has high calorific value (around 8,000 Kcal/kg) compared to 3,500-4,500 kcal/kg of conventional Indian coal. In other properties like ash content and volatile matter it has been found to be superior. The negative point is the sulphur content, which goes up to 7 per cent. The sulphur content varies depending on the source of crude oil. For example, the pet coke available in Assam and in Gujarat will vary in sulphur content.
The pet coke market in India has been growing, especially since the past five years, and it is expected to grow further. The demand has grown at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 23 per cent over the last five fiscals. The main reason for the growth in consumption is superior fuel properties and attractive price proposition. Next to China, India is the second largest pet coke consuming country in Asia. The production is at around 12.45 million tonnes (MT), whereas consumption is nearly double this amount. The excess consumption is catered to through imports.
Except Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, all oil marketing companies in India produce pet coke; HPCL produces the commodity through its joint venture with Mittal Energy Investments Pte Limited. Producers in the country include Reliance Industries, Essar, IOCL, BPCL, and Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals. The capacity in the country went up with the commissioning of the Paradip refinery of IOCL in 2016. The new refinery is equipped with a pet coke production capacity of 1.21 million tonnes per annum (MTPA).
The cement, power and steel industries are the predominant consumers of pet coke. The cement industry is the foremost consumer, accounting for a consumption of around 75 per cent of the total demand in the country, according to industry experts. Thus, any deviation in the consumption pattern of the cement industry also reflects proportionally in the pet coke demand pattern. It is needless to say that the expected growth in steel and cement will spur more demand for pet coke as more quantities of fuel will be necessary for enhanced production.
Domestic supply of pet coke will decrease substantially in the future, after the Coke Gasification Project of Reliance Industries goes on-stream. The Coke Gasification Project is at implementation stage at the Jamnagar Refinery of the company, and will involve conversion of the company's pet coke production into synthetic gas (commonly called as 'syngas'), which will be used as a captive fuel for various manufacturing set-ups of the company.
The expected growth in demand for pet coke will thus trigger inflow of more imports into the country as the demand and supply gap is set to widen further.
Advantages of using pet coke
For the same amount of heat, the quantity of pet coke required is less than that of coal, which leads to saving in transport cost, considering the quantum of fuel transported. The industry is able to use marginal quality of limestone because pet coke generates much less ash content, which is a great relief for those operating old plants. The plants can easily enhance the life of quarry if pet coke is used. The manufacturing process permitting, some of the plants have resorted to 100 per cent pet coke use (Ambuja Kodiar, ACC Chaibasa etc.).
Challenges in using pet coke
High sulphur content leads to jamming of process and needs to be addressed by investing some capex. This has to be supported by carefully monitoring the process parameters. Pet coke has lower Hard Groove Index, hence it is difficult to grind. This results in lowering of grinding output of ground pet coke, but there are solutions to these problems.
Operators have to carry out some design changes in the burner of the kiln. Burning pet coke is also relatively difficult compared to normal coal. But the net result of using pet coke is advantageous to plants and therefore more and more manufacturers prefer to use pet coke. Hence, many plants will continue to use pet coke as long as it makes business sense. The prices of Indian as well as imported pet coke have been fluctuating along with the price of crude oil.
The cement industry faces a peculiar problem as far as the usage of pet coke is concerned. A few organisations have raised a red flag due to pollution hazards and these voices cannot be ignored. The industry and NGOs need to sit together and thrash out a technical solution to the problem. With advancement in science and technology, nothing is impossible. Considering that the Indian cement industry is quite resilient, it will certainly have its own solution to the this knotty issue.