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Resurrecting reserves

World Coal,

Coal resources, evaluated at more than 32 billion t, are located in the south of Brazil, in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná. Of the larger fossil fuel reserves, about 87% is found in Rio Grande do Sul and 13% in Santa Catarina. It should be mentioned that this is an incomplete inventory because a coal geological survey has not been carried out in Brazil since 1982. Of the total amount, about 38% of the reserves occur in the Candiota coalfield, near the border of Uruguay, and are exploited in open-cast mines.

Current Brazilian ROM coal production stood at 14.8 million t in 2008. The generation of electric power provides the largest market for national coal. The country has an installed coal-firing capacity of 1415 MW, providing around 1% of the country's power generation and using 83% of coal production.

The energy matrix

Currently, Brazil's energy mix is based mainly on hydroelectricity generation, which provides about 77% of the total electric power generation and 91.8% of the total electric interconnected national grid. Although this is one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world, it is dependent on the pluviometric regime to keep the hydroelectric plants operating, and this could be a problem in a climate change regime.

The hydrothermal character of the Brazilian Interconnected Electrical System is somewhat flexible as to the amount of fossil fuel it consumes. Thermoelectric generation is supplementary to hydroelectric generation, substituting it only when the reservoirs are short of water. Such substitution is simple to implement with coal-fired thermal plants, since coal is easy to store.

Brazil also imports around 15 million t of met coal to supply the steel industry. Combined with the domestic production, coal represents 6% of the primary energy matrix.

PNE 2030

In December 2006, the Brazilian Government launched the 2030 National Plan for Energy (PNE 2030). Although coal's share in the primary energy matrix will remain almost the same, increasing from 6% in 2000 to 7% in 2030, because total energy demand is forecast to more than double to 309.3 toe, current coal production will need to double by 2030.

According to PNE 2030, an additional 8000 MW of new coal-fired power plants must be installed. However, this value could increase as most of the hydroelectricity potential is located in the environmentally sensitive Amazon region. Due to environmental constraints, the flood area for hydropower is decreasing from 0.51 km2/MW to 0.06 km2/MW for the new projects. So with no storage of water, the electric system will need backup from fossils fuels, and coal is the best option for this.

Moreover, with the shortage of gas in Argentina and the lack of energy sources in Uruguay, the Brazilian coal industry could supply coal-fired energy to both these countries. A 340 MW project is currently under development.

In addition, considering natural gas' share in the expected energy mix and the difficulties when dealing with imported gas, coal gasification and coalbed methane (CBM) could be an opportunity to replace part of the imported natural gas, mainly in south Brazil.

Author: Fernando Luiz Zancan

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