IEA Clean Coal Centre

Australia: Vics clean coal boon

The Latrobe Valley is home to the second-largest brown coal deposit on Earth. In a period of ever-inflating energy prices, the 430-billion tonne deposit provides Victoria and Australia with an abundant supply estimated to be able to last some 500 years.
But with global warming and clean-energy demands, in some minds brown coal has become a dirty word. As revealed in today’s Herald Sun, the Federal Government and CSIRO have set cleaner brown coal at Latrobe as a major priority in Australia’s carbon-reduction goals. A scientific focus on developing new, cleaner technologies for processing these vast deposits is the centrepiece in a project which could halve emissions from Victoria’s engine room. If successful, it could also mean a huge boon for jobs in the region and a much-needed injection of new industry in regional Victoria. The expansive fields pose a real potential to become a world leader in the processing of cleaner coal. A hoped-for byproduct in the development of new technologies is also a new source of crude oil for cars and aviation. Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Victoria’s brown coal industry could be revolutionised with targeted funding and research. Most likely, that money would come through the Federal Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund. The ambitious clean coal project is tipped to become one of the first funded under Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Direct Action plan to replace the carbon tax. Rather than punishing a critical, established and reliable industry, innovation is hoped to provide a “bonanza” for Gippsland jobs and secondary industries as well as the central aim of tangible cuts to pollution from the coal-fired plants. “Instead of trying to close down Victoria’s best resource, this is about cleaning it up,” Minister Hunt says. He insists this is not “pie in the sky” thinking but a very real option for future energy generation. As well as more efficient and cleaner brown coal-fired plants, the program would also support growth in wind and solar technologies within the decade time frame proposed. Advanced carbon power technology is at the heart of the project. The CSIRO’s direct injection carbon engine, known as DICE, is hoped to be able to reduce emissions by up to 50 per cent from Victoria’s brown coal to generate Australia’s lowest cost, low CO2 electricity. New thinking is exactly what is needed to tackle environmental and cost concerns. Stage one will see about $10 million spent on developing hi-tech components for a test using Victorian brown coal on a diesel engine in Japan in 2015. Stage two forecasts spending a further $40 to $80 million — a major investment — building a prototype in the Latrobe Valley. Trials will be five to eight years away and the new-technology engines would replace conventional boilers over a 10 to 30-year time frame. But when a key motivator is better environmental outcomes, time spent on a cleaner future is a small price to pay. Things will not happen overnight, but with proper funding and resolve, they will. And with commercial operations possible by 2018, the program will begin paying dividends at an early stage. Clean coal is the answer, for Victoria, jobs and the environment.


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