16.2 TECHNOLOGY

16.2 TECHNOLOGY

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TECHNOLOGY




What’s happening in brown coal research within Gippsland?

By Dr Vincent Verheyen, Leader Carbon Technology Research Centre,
Federation University



Vincent has a PhD on the structure of brown coal and has extensive industry, research and development experience in the Coal to Products (CTX) area having worked for the VBCC (Victorian Brown Coal Council), CCV (Clean Coal Victoria), HRL, Monash and now Federation University.

CCS Research Laboratory, Gippsland Campus Federation University
Political and social pressure is pushing Victoria to move away from producing electricity from brown coal to a new generation of cleaner technologies. The legacy baseload power stations will gradually need replacing with a new efficient means of energy generation. However, there is an exciting opportunity for new manufacturing industries producing value added products particularly gases and liquids based on this bountiful and clean carbon resource.

Federation University, Gippsland campus is located on the edge of the Latrobe Valley’s brown coal deposits and overlooks Victoria’s coal fired power stations. Coal research is the focus of the new Carbon Technology Research Centre (CTRC) which currently has a revitalised analytical facility. The CTRC has benefited greatly from a A$2.3 million grant from the Federal Government through the EIF program. The refurbished laboratories and new equipment were established to support the CarbonNet Project, Gippsland Victoria (CCS Flagship Project). The funding and the CCS Flagship project have enabled Federation University to develop a comprehensive integrated analysis facility. The formation of a Latrobe Valley based, analytical and education facility focussing on energy training and research towards environmentally benign and economically viable PCC (Post Combustion Capture) operation has been and continues to be a key goal for FedUni.

In addition to supporting CSIRO CCS projects, the CTRC laboratory and research team will address broader national CCS R&D strategies by extending support to other CO2CRC members where needs and capabilities align. As always, the CTRC team remain keen to work with companies involved in demonstrating value added product technologies from brown coal. The CTRC has enjoyed strong support from the local electricity generators, BCIA, Latrobe City, CSIRO and primary industry agriproducts suppliers amongst others.

Through post-graduate research and the provision of analytical services, the CTRC continues to contribute to the understanding and identification of value added product technologies from brown coal.


Current research and planned projects in this theme
  • Exploring industrial ecology to manage waste stream associated with commercial capture.
  • Minimising degradation of capture systems (Opex reduction).
  • Co-capture of other gases besides CO₂, i.e. SO₂ (Capex reduction).

The CTRC’s approach here is to exploit the special properties of our brown coals and not to attempt conversions best suited to higher rank coals. The very high moisture, state of organic matter preservation and atypical ash chemistry all require targeted research towards high value add technologies which take natural advantage of these properties.

Current research and planned projects in this theme
  • Optimisation of water based fuel properties for Direct Injection Carbon Engines (heavy fuel oil replacer based on brown coal).
  • Improving products and production processes for upgrading humic compounds from brown coal for agricultural use.
  • Developing special sorbents and ion exchange materials exploiting the natural properties of brown coal.
  • Using the future abundant supply of CO₂ from Carbon Capture as a chemical pre-treatment for brown coal. Supercritical CO₂ has potential as an effective and clean solvent for the extraction of valuable chemicals prior to further utilisation as a fuel. This CO₂ product could also be used to ion exchange cations and modify the permeability / reactivity of brown coal feedstocks for use in DICE fuels.
  • Investigating the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released during drying and torrefaction of brown coal, and the physical changes in the gel structure of brown coal during drying. The recent mine fire has heightened awareness of the potential harm associated with uncontrolled atmospheric release of coal derived compounds. Our team is initiating a new research program into identifying and quantifying these compounds.
  • Biological treatment / remediation of brown coal process waste streams. Thermal treatment of brown coals generates process waters of variable quality. Research into the properties of these waters would assist in optimising their treatment for reuse or recycling. By-products from other coal uses including chars, ashes and inferior coals could form part of the tailored water treatment package. Mine rehabilitation research is a potential new subset in this theme.

The special properties of our brown coals should not be seen as a barrier to commercialisation – rather an advantage in preparing a niche range of products. The scale of the resource and its ready access will drive companies with both foresight and research support, towards a new manufacturing future.

Should you have a project you would like the CTRC team to work on, or for further information please contact Vincent Verheyen using this website link
federation.edu.au/CCTC.

Figure 1: Variation in ash appearance from sized
brown coal fractions.

Figure 2: Refurbished analytical laboratory revealing some of the trolley enabled instruments which enable hybrid separation / detection techniques such as IC/ICPMS, LC/ICPMS, GC/QTOFMS.
Figure 3: New scanning electron microscope with variable pressure SE detector and also fitted with an EDS package enabling elemental analysis.



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