US thermal coal imports projected to rise

International thermal coal import demand is expected to increase at a “steady pace” following 2 years of strong growth in 2001 and 2000, said coal consultants Hill & Associates.

In a newly published study, the consultants projected overall demand for internationally traded thermal coal is expected to grow by about 24% during the forecast period, to 445.5 million tonnes in 2010 from 2000’s estimated level of 359 million tonnes.

They predicted five countries are likely to be leaders in coal imports for use in power plants, including Japan, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, and the US.

“The US is a new entry on this short list of countries with a potential for significant import growth, said the Annapolis, Md.,-based group, noting Latin American coals compete in coastal markets already and will be even more competitive in times of lower ocean freights.

Alabama Power, Birmingham, Ala., a unit of Southern Co.; Jacksonville Electric Authority, Jacksonville, Fla.; Alabama Electric Cooperative Inc., Andalusia, Ala., and Southern Co., Atlanta, Ga., are among the US generators likely to import significant volumes of coal, the consultants said.

While demand for pulverized coal is expected to be strong, Hill & Associates said the market for coke and coking coal will be relatively flat. The consultants predicted demand for pulverized coal will increase to 41 million tonnes by 2010 from 30.7 million tonnes in 2000.

Consolidation among steelmakers worldwide and a rash of steel company bankruptcies and closures in the US has hurt the industry. The coking coal markets remain static, Hill & Associates said, and “slow growth” is expected.

“We have forecast coal use in all metallurgical applications to grow very slowly from 185.7 million tonnes/year in 2000 up to 200.7 million tonnes over the 10-year forecast period,” the consultants said.

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