The coal industry needs investment of about 317.74 trillion VND (15.13 billion USD) to fulfill its development targets between now and 2020, said Nguyen Khac Tho, deputy director of the General Department of Energy.

Tho made the announcement at a seminar held on Feb. 23 to publicise a master plan for the sector, adopted by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung early last month.

The 2012-15 period alone will require two-thirds of the amount for maintaining, upgrading and expanding production as well as for implementing new investments.

Capital will be raised through sources including ownership capital, loans and the stock market, he said.

Tho explained that the plan is mapped out with the aim to exploit, process and utilise domestic coal reserves efficiently and economically to best serve home demand. It also aims to gradually reduce coal import ratios and enable selective export.

According to Tho, the industry plans to reach cross-sector merchandised coal yield of 55-58 million tonnes in 2015, 60-65 million tonnes in 2020, and over 75 million tonnes in 2030.

By 2030, as many as 47 new mine projects will be built in the Dong Bac (North East) coal basin. Several mines using underground coal gastification technology and with capacities of 3 million tonnes per year, will be developed in the Red River Delta coal basin.

Twelve additional coal sorting and processing plants will be constructed by this time while peat and coalmines in localities will be expanded.

Infrastructure for production including electricity, roads, railroads, transportation systems and conveyor belts would be upgraded. Nine coal export ports are to be improved and one built in Uong Bi, Hon Gai and Cam Pha districts of northern Quang Ninh Province.

"The country's demand for coal will increase significantly in the coming years," said Energy Department Director Pham Manh Thang.

"The demand on coal power plants is very great."

Thang said the country will have about 46 operational coal power factories by 2020 consuming about 77 million tonnes of coal per year. Of the yearly needed volume, the nation can meet 29 million tonnes itself while having to import 48 million.

"It's clear that we need more solid import sources," he said, adding that the Government had assigned the Vietnam National Coal-Mineral Industries Corp to seek more foreign suppliers.

It also tasked the ministry to build mechanisms to stimulate private manufacturers to meet demand by investing in mines, associating with foreign partners and importing coal themselves.

Thang said an important thing is to establish reasonable coal import and export prices.

"Price levels must ensure the general economic goals of the country while stimulating investors to do their business.

"This year we have to control the inflation rate at below 10 percent while continuing to work with the Ministry of Finance to balance our goals," he added.

Total national coal reserve was estimated to be 48.7 billion tonnes at the beginning of last year, with about 7.2 billion tonnes having been mobilised into master plans, according to Tho.

Tho noted that appropriate investment in technology, the environment, labour safety and resource security is needed for a sustainable industry, in addition to boosting international cooperation in exploring, processing and using coal./.