[ASC-media] Media release: here comes 'green' coal

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Tue Nov 22 08:20:24 EST 2005

CCSD Media Release 05/03  

November 22, 2005


Coal helping to grow Australia's food
 coal keeping the nation's transport rolling
.coal yielding new industrial products
. coal cleaning up our rivers
.coal the backbone and brains of the green economy.

These are facets of the 'new coal' starting to emerge from the huge national and global R&D effort that has sprung into being under the spur of global warming. Far from an 'industrial dinosaur', coal is emerging as one of the most versatile and imaginative commodities on the planet.

They were among the opportunities for coal projected at a recent gathering of industry and scientists hosted by the Cooperative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development (CCSD) in Brisbane.

Instead of being the industry's death knell, public concern over climate change has instead triggered a spate of innovation.  This will yield greater national energy efficiency, enhanced security and new industrial opportunities besides a cleaner environment, says the CRC's CEO Frank van Schagen.

A feature of the revolution in coal technologies is the way that coal and power companies and researchers who once worked apart are forming partnerships round the world to share ideas and tackle the major challenges of designing the best clean power solutions for the coming century.

The US Electric Power Research Institute's CoalFleet for Tomorrow project aims to have 3-5 advanced IGCC power plants coming on line by 2010, and involves organisations in Asia, Europe and Australia as well as America, says director, generation, Mr Stu Dalton.

Large gains in efficiency and CO2 reductions will be obtained just by moving to ultra-super critical power generation technology, says ALSTOM's Dr Nsakala ya Nsakala. ALSTOM is also making progress in developing oxy-fired circulating fluidized bed technology, now ready for demonstration, and is moving towards advanced CO2 capture systems in the longer term.

Australia's own feasibility study on a first-of-type demonstration for oxygen-fired pulverised fuel combustion is progressing well, says CCSD project leader Dr Chris Spero. The technology combines recycled flue gas with pure oxygen to provide options that allow the capture and storage of CO2..

Dr Louis Wibberley outlined plans for CSIRO to take a fresh look at post-combustion capture of CO2. If breakthroughs are delivered at the scale required, they offer a way forward to conventional pulverised fuel (pf) combustion if tough carbon rules were introduced.

Demand for Australian coal for energy and steelmaking, and Australian coal technologies are expected to grow substantially in the coming 10-20 years. China is adding a new "Australia" to its energy industry every year. If its economic growth is maintained, coal imports will grow despite substantial increases in local production. Japanese demand is expected to be steady with a strong research thrust towards gasification and hydrogen from coal. India is emerging as the next giant in terms of demand, needing to triple coking-coal imports to 50mt by 2015 to keep pace with its soaring steel production.

Fundamental research in modelling ash and slag flow in CCSD allows coal performance in the new generation gasifiers to be assessed, Dr Peter Hayes said. Ash removal is vital for efficient gasifier operation and the new model enables operators to predict how different coals and blends will perform. 

Coal ash could soon find other vital uses - as a slow-release fertiliser for Australia's $30 billion agricultural industries, and so reduce nutrient pollution of the nation's rivers. Zeolites specially tailored from flyash may find a valuable use as carriers for essential plant nutrients, releasing them into the soil as the plants need them, says CCSD doctoral researcher Alex Elliott. The technique could yield a valuable use for part of the 12 million tonnes of waste flyash currently posing a disposal headache - and give coal a new "green" image. 

A major issue at the conference raised by several speakers was the challenge of making billion dollar decisions about investments in coal and power generation in a time of regulatory uncertainty. It was generally agreed that costly near-zero emissions technology will not happen without a regulatory environment - carbon taxes, trading or special incentives - that overcome the initial cost disadvantage and risks associated with new technology.

With the new opportunities in liquid fuels, chemicals, fertilisers and other products arising out of research primarily directed at improving the efficiency of coal and reducing its emissions, combined with the prospect of strong Asian export demand, the future of Australian coal appeared bright, said Frank van Schagen.

However he cautioned that national R&D funding for coal would begin to dry up substantially between 2008-2010 - just when the new technologies were starting to appear - and it was now time to consider how Australia should meet that challenge.

More information:
Frank van Schagen, CEO, CCSD, 0412 149 951 or 07 3871 4400
Dr Noel Simento, CCSD, 07 3871 4404
Prof. Julian Cribb, media, 0418 639 245

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