Kenya will soon join the Coal mining nations following the confirmation of commercially viable deposits of coal in the Mui Basin, in Mwingi East, Mwingi Central and Mutitu Districts.
The Government of Kenya has moved to divide the coal blocks within the basin into concessions for the purposes of private sector exploration, exploitation and development. Feasibility investigations showed that there are at least 275 million metric tonnes of coal in the basin where the Ministry of Energy has concentrated drilling activities.
An inter–ministerial committee has been in place establishing policies for licensing the exploitation, mining and development of coal. Membership of the committee includes the Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, the Treasury, Ministry of Industrialization, State Law Office and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
Companies wishing to exploit the coal will need a funding base of more than $100 million. So far more than 71 wells have been drilled in the Mui Basin. Of these, more than 40 wells have intercepted coals at various depths. The depth of the coal wells in the basin range from 75 to 455 metres below ground level. The number of coal seams in each well ranges from one to six with coal seams varying in thickness from less than one metre to 13 metres.
Analysis of the coal has been carried out within Kenya by the University of Nairobi and the materials branch laboratories of the Ministry of Roads as well as abroad in the UK, Malawi and South Africa. The laboratory tests have confirmed that the coal varies in quality and grade from lignite to sub-bituminous to bituminous with a calorific value averaging 18 MJ/Kg.
Each company that will be involved in the exploitation will be given an opportunity to to develop at least a 300 megawatts power plant. Any surplus coal could be used for cement manufacture, iron and steel manufacture or conversion to liquid fuels.
Currently, 67 percent of Kenya’s power is generated from hydro sources, 10 per cent from geo-thermal and 23 per cent from thermal. The Ministry of Energy’s Chief Geologist, Mr. John Omenge, explained the importance of coal to Kenya:
“The anticipated mining and development of the Mui Basin coal will greatly benefit the country as it will provide the much needed power and input for various industries.
“Coal is the cheapest source of power. Mui Basin coal could, therefore, unlock the power deficit currently facing the country as well as spur industrial growth to create wealth and employment and thus reduce poverty in line with Vision 2030.
“Coal demand worldwide is increasing as countries search for cheap electricity for their growing economies.”
Mr Omenge says Mui coals compare favorably with the South Africa coals, Eskom & Vaal. Other countries producing coal from within the Karoo formation which extends into Kenya are Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania.
The ministry has called all the stakeholders including communities residing in the Mui Basin to support the Government’s effort to encourage prudent mining and full development of the resource.
According to the Ministry of Energy, national benefits of Mui Basin coal will include growth of the coal sub–sector, enhanced energy security, macro industrial development and growth of other industries. Local benefits might include shared revenues accrued from coal mining, local employment, stimulation of local business, improved infrastructure and Corporate Social Responsibility projects.