By Abdel Qader Ramadan
A month after the cabinet announced a controversial plan to import coal to offset a power crisis at cement factories, the debate over the impacts of the decision is still raging.
Omar Mhanna, chairman of Suez Cement Group, which owns five factories across the country with a total yield of about 12m tons of clinker per year, said production at cement plants decreased by 11% last year because of oil and natural gas shortages. In the summer months, when electricity needs are highest, production rates fell to 50% of capacity.
He argued that, worldwide, coal and petroleum coke represent 80% of the fuel used in the cement industry.
“The use of coal will save the state $5bn a year, which was spent on the import of diesel fuel for use in power plants,” said Medhat Stefanos, head of the cement industry division for the Federation of Egyptian Industries, and deputy CEO of Titan Cement Egypt.
Stefanos praised the idea of using solid waste and biofuels as alternative energy sources, but said such measures would be able to provide enough fuel to meet 30% of factories’ power needs at best.
“New and renewable energies cannot be a workaround to provide power to the cement factories,” he said.
On the other side of the debate, Ahmed Droubi, general coordinator of the campaign “Egyptians Against Coal”, said cement plants have a history of being “rude” and failing to comply with Egyptian environmental and health standards.
Cement plants recorded 850 environmental violations during the year 2012 and 950 during 2013, Droubi said. Factories have made “no guarantees” that they would use filters to reduce the emission of toxic chemicals, such as arsenic and mercury, he said.
“To what extent will these irregularities increase after factories begin using coal?” he said.
In order to recover the cost of adapting equipment to burn coal, the industry will have to use the fuel source for “no less than 20 years,” he said.
Droubi forecasted, however, that the county’s energy shortage problem could be resolved as soon as 2018 or 2024.
“Coal is not a temporary solution,” he said.