POSTSCRIPT / February 28, 2006 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Formosa shows how coal can be clean, cheap fuel

MUDDY TO CLEAR: Because of its limited water resourcethe tiny nation of Singapore is turning treated wastewater to potable water though microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultra violet technologies.

The brand name of the product is NEWater, which has reportedly contributed to 1 percent of Singapore’s potable water requirements.

The quality of the reclaimed water exceeds the standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and is, in fact, cleaner than the other sources of Singapore’s water.

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CLEAN COAL: Some say the term “clean coal” is an oxymoron, that coal cannot be clean. That may have been true many years ago. But today, coal can be used cleanly.

Just like Singapore’s reclaimed water, the secret is in the technology. Air pollutants like sulfur oxide (SOx), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulates coming out of the stack can now be significantly reduced through precision furnace combustion design, selective catalyst reduction, installation of electro static precipitators that collect dust, low NOx burner and flue-gas desulphurisation that removes sulphur, the cause of acid rain.

The experts tell us of advanced technologies, such as Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) boilers that can burn any type of coal and still come up with low emission levels.

“Clean coal technology” describes a new generation of energy processes that sharply reduce air emissions and other pollutants compared to older coal-burning systems.

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TAIWAN VISIT: These technologies I saw in my recent visit to Taiwan that took me to, among other things, three coal-fired plants — one really big complex with integrated industries surrounding the power plant, and two other smaller ones right in the middle of commercial and residential districts.

In the Nan Ya complex, which is in the Tao Yuan district of Taipei, the two generating units, 57 megawatts each, of Jin-Shin power plant also provides steady power and steam to two companies that manufacture dust-sensitive products.

The power complex operates just 500 meters from a 5-level shopping mall, and within a mixed industrial, commercial and residential community.

If coal is really pollutive and continuously emitting foul dust into the air, how can households and dust-sensitive industries live right beside it? But they do.

The industries there are Nan Ya Technology Corp. producing DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory) chips and Nan Ya Printed Circuit Board Corp., which is second in the world in its line of products.

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CHEAPER POWER: Considering their scale and efficiency, plus their vaunted integration, power plants of the Formosa Plastics Group generate cheaper electricity.

Excess electricity is sold to the state-owned electric company at a price of about NT$1.55, or around P2.46 per kilowatt-hour. Compare this to the current rate of our National Power Corp., which is about P4.53 per kw-hr in Luzon.

How will Napocor explain this substantial disparity? Puede naman palang mag-generate ng mas murang electricity, so why are we paying for indecently expensive power?

Btw, the Formosa Plastics Group is a Taiwanese conglomerate of diverse interests, including power generation, biotechnology, petrochemical processing, and production of electronics components. It is the largest private enterprise in Taiwan with over 82,000 employees and investments in the Unites States , China and Indonesia.

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INTEGRATION: Probably one of the reasons for its cheap power is integration. In addition to driving turbine generators, steam from its coal-fired plants is used by manufacturing companies integrated into the system. They call this process co-generation.

Integration of different manufacturing processes is seen also in the Group’s sprawling 2,096-hectare Mai-Liao Industrial Park. The US$19.2-billion project has the No. 6 Naptha Cracking Project as its flagship. The complex sitting on reclaimed land is a virtual city with its own postal system.

Its coal-fired power plants generate electricity and steam used by oil refineries, naptha cracking plants, a machinery and boiler shop, a wafer fabrication shop and a plasma display manufacturing plant within the complex.

It also has a 24-meter deep port, making it Taiwan’s deepest port and first privately funded industrial port. A visitor cannot help marveling at the pipes crisscrossing one plant to another, transporting steam, water, fuel and raw materials, making hauling cost efficient and cheap.

Formosa Plastics executives told us that in the Mai-Liao project, 20 percent of total investment, or about US$3.82 billion, was spent on pollution prevention.

In my mind, that debunks the comment I often hear in Manila that pollution management makes power generation very expensive.

The NOx and SOx emission rates of its coal-fired plants are way below the Taiwan government standard of 250 and 300 ppm respectively. For comparison, the Philippine Clean Air Act Standards for these two pollutants are 700 for SOx and 1,000 for NOx.

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SELF-FULFILLING: I have not seen any action so far taken by the administration against its political enemies that it could not have taken without President Gloria Arroyo having to proclaim a state of national emergency.

In short, if the idea was merely to prosecute and neutralize the tormentors of President Arroyo and those allegedly plotting a coup d’etat, there was no need for Proclamation 1017.

We already have the laws to cover such criminal behavior. If the administration has the goods on the plotters, as Malacanang claims it has, it could have gone ahead and filed the proper charges without having to invoke or stir up an emergency.

The government’s legal hand did not become any stronger with Proclamation 1017, because that self-serving document did not add to the awesome powers of the President and Commander-in-Chief.

The proclamation may just prove to be self-fulfilling. It may create the wished-for emergency and heighten the uncertainty in the air, further feeding the emergency signaled by the issuance of the proclamation.

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MULTIPLE CHOICE: So why was Proclamation 1017 issued even at the risk of firming up the widespread impression that we have an unstable government in a divided country led by a President still trying to win a mandate?

Choose the right answer:

  1. A paranoid President Arroyo just overreacted to the destabilization.
  2. The administration was laying the basis or testing the waters for a more sinister scenario in its calibrated response to threats.
  3. It was scaring targeted sectors into behaving.
  4. All of the above.
  5. None of the above. There is another reason (Please mention).

Please send responses to:  (if by email) or to POSTSCRIPT, c/o Philippine Star, Port Area, Manila (if by snail mail or messenger service). No text or SMS responses will be entertained.

IMPORTANT: If sending by email, kindly type “PROCLAMATION 1017” in the Subject field so my computer will divert it to a dedicated folder for faster handling.

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FEEDBACK: As in past POSTSCRIPT surveys, respondents are requested to give their name, sex, age and location for confidential statistical purposes. I may tack on the sender’s name to his comment to be published, unless the sender asks not to be identified.

Experience has shown that most readers are not contented with simply indicating their choice, but will insist on giving us a piece of their mind. I plead with respondents not to exceed 100 words if and when they do add a comment.

I reserve the right to edit readers’ comments to fit space or to junk them altogether.

Such addresses as yahoo and hotmail as well as those from prepaid email cards may have to be double-checked to screen out organized mailing, and that prolongs the process. I therefore urge those who have them to use the original email addresses given by their Internet Service Providers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 28, 2006)

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