Explained: Why Indian Companies Are Importing Pet Coke From Venezuela
A tonne of pet coke is more expensive than coal, and produces more energy when burnt.
The story: Indian companies are importing significant volumes of petroleum coke from Venezuela for the first time. According to three trade sources, Refinitiv ship tracking data, and Venezuelan shipping schedules, Indian cement businesses imported at least four cargoes totaling 1,60,000 tonnes of petroleum coke from April to June, this year.
Swarajya takes a look at why there is an import rush and its implications.
What is Pet Coke?
Petroleum coke, or pet coke, is a product produced from all types of oil (light/heavy crudes) during the oil refining process. The heavier the oil (i.e. higher in their carbon content), the more pet coke produced. There are two distinctive grades of Petroleum Coke viz. Calcined Pet Coke and Fuel Grade Pet Coke.
Fuel Grade Pet Coke, directly comes out of the Coker and is often referred to as Green Coke ("green" means unprocessed). This coke is high in sulphur and heavy metals, and is burned in power plants to generate electricity.
The further processing of Green Coke produces Calcined Pet Coke (CPC), which is low in sulphur and heavy metals and used to produce aluminium, steel, and as industrial feedstock.
What are the key benefits of fuel grade pet coke over coal?
A tonne of pet coke is more expensive than coal, and produces more energy when burnt. Pet coke is a direct replacement of coal as a fuel as its gross calorific value is nearly 8000 Kcal/kg which is twice the value of average coal used in electricity generation. The low ash content makes it a decent fuel for power generation in coal-fired boilers.
Being solid fuel, Pet coke has low volatile matter and thus, there are no evaporation losses. Further, there is considerable saving in transportation cost due to higher density compared to liquid fuels.
Pet coke is hydrophobic as compared to coal which is hydrophilic, thereby having edge during rainy season.
What are the key environmental challenges in using Pet coke?
Pet coke is over 80 per cent Carbon and emits 5 to 10 per cent more Carbon Dioxide (CO2) than coal on a per unit of energy basis when burned for power.
At the same time, it is very rich in Sulphur and Volatile Organic Components, which on burning, emit extremely air polluting gases, particularly Sulphur Dioxide (SO2).
However, it is widely used by the cement industry - its largest consumer, as SO2 emissions, are absorbed by limestone.
Is pet coke usage allowed in India?
The Supreme Court in 2017 imposed a ban on the use of Pet coke in industries in the National Capital Region (NCR) states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and suggested that similar steps be taken in other States.
In compliance of the Supreme Court directive, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2019 directed all states and UTs for preparation of policy on uses of Pet Coke.
Earlier, a report filed by CPCB said that use of pet coke can be allowed only in industries/ processes either as feed stock (aluminium industries) or where they get absorbed along with product in manufacturing process (cement, lime kiln, calcium carbide industries).
As things stand out, most of the States have allowed use of Pet coke as an industrial fuel subject to the installation of 90 per cent recovery of SO2 emissions. Similarly, use of Pet coke other than industrial fuel is also allowed based on the CPCB guidelines.
What is the extent of Pet coke import in India?
As per notification of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) dated 17 August 2018, import of Pet coke for use as fuel is prohibited.
However, import of Pet coke is allowed for only cement, lime kiln, calcium carbide and gasification industries, when used as the feedstock or in the manufacturing process on actual user condition.
As the world's largest consumer of pet coke, India imports over half its annual pet coke consumption of about 27 million tonnes, mainly from the United States and Saudi Arabia. Local producers include Indian Oil Corporation (IOCL), Reliance Industries and Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL).
What about import from Venezuela?
India's growing appetite for Venezuelan pet coke is fuelled by a rush for cheap fuel to power industries as global coal prices rise. A surge in global coal prices to record highs since the Russia-Ukraine war has pushed Indian cement makers including JSW Cement, Ramco Cements Ltd. and Orient Cement Ltd. to import pet coke from Venezuela.
Venezuelan pet coke is being offered at discounts of 5-10 per cent to pet coke from the United States, Indian traders and cement company officials said.
This could boost cash flow for the South American producer, where state and private companies have increased exports of petrochemicals and oil by-products, and the more competitively-priced Venezuelan supplies could displace cargoes from traditional suppliers.
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