India's imports of petcoke are expected to more than double this year, industry officials say, as competitive prices are driving cement makers to switch to the fuel as an alternative to coal.
A tonne of petcoke, a refinery byproduct, is more expensive than coal, but produces more energy when burnt. It is generally not used as fuel because of toxic emissions, but is widely used by the cement industry - its largest consumer, as sulphur dioxide emissions are absorbed by limestone.
Global coal prices are near record highs due to fears of a supply crunch following the European Commission's decision to ban coal imports from Russia after the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Imports of petcoke are expected to more than double in 2022, a coal trader and two executives at large Indian cement manufacturing companies told Reuters.
"I am expecting 10 million tonnes of petcoke to come into India in 2022," said Vasudev Pamnani, general manager at coal trader Iman Resources.
A diversion of domestic coal supplies to utilities to address a power crisis and increased internal use of domestic petcoke by refineries are also contributing to higher imports, the executives said.
Consumption surged 34% to 4.2 million tonnes during the quarter ended March, the fastest pace in nearly six years and the first quarterly growth in over two years, government data shows.
Imported petcoke accounted for nearly half the total consumption during the quarter, with Saudi Arabia and United States accounting for the bulk of shipments, data from trading firm Iman Resources showed.
"Import of fuel-grade petcoke was slow during 2021 due to high price and tightness in supply. But in the near past, fuel-grade petcoke is again becoming competitive to coal and its users are switching from coal," Indian coal trader I-Energy said in a note.