18.6 INTERNATIONAL

18.6 INTERNATIONAL

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INTERNATIONAL
International Perspectives on Brown Coal R&D
- MONASH UNIVERSITY -





The benefits of international linkages for brown coal research at Monash
By Dr Joanne Tanner, Lecturer and Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Chemical Engineering, Monash University


International linkages are the key to collaborative research, and paramount to ensuring the spread and uptake of new knowledge and ideas across the globe. Brown coal research is no exception, and Monash University researchers have initiated and maintain many strong international connections in this field, as Joanne Tanner explains.

The Department of Chemical Engineering at Monash University, Clayton is home to several internationally recognised brown coal researchers and innovators, who form part of the Energy, Fuels, Biorefining, and Sustainable Processing Group. Many of their projects in the brown coal innovation space involve international partners, including collaborators from industry and academic institutes in Belgium, China, Germany, India, Japan, Taiwan, and the USA, among others.

To date, four academics, three postdoctoral fellows and 15 young researchers at Monash University have been directly involved in brown coal experimental and modelling projects with international partners. The benefits of such collaborative projects are obvious – the sharing of knowledge and experience from different countries and different backgrounds leads to more relevant outcomes and a richer understanding of the answers to the underlying research questions than could be achieved by the research partners alone.


I myself was a beneficiary of several international collaboration and research opportunities at Monash through my BCIA sponsored PhD in brown coal research. I was co-supervised by Professor Klaus Hein from Stuttgart University (Germany), a BCIA Research Fellow at Monash from 2010-2013, and Professor Sankar Bhattacharya, a leading brown coal researcher at Monash with a background in industrial research. Professors Hein and Bhattacharya organised an international collaboration for my project with Forschungszentrum (FZ) Jülich (Germany), and this partnership was co-funded by a Go8-DAAD grant.

As a result, I spent three months in Germany over two years, working closely with expert researchers in the Thermochemistry Division at FZ Jülich on various aspects of high temperature gasification. Our collaborative research into the effect of temperature and gasification atmosphere on the release of inorganic species from this process resulted in four joint journal publications and two international conference

Joanne conducting high temperature gasification measurements at FZJ to determine the species evolved from Victorian brown coal
presentations, not to mention the successful completion of my PhD thesis. I also went on to work as a postdoctoral researcher at Jülich in 2015 to extend the original research scope. This collaboration with FZ Jülich is ongoing.

This work could not have been completed without the involvement of both sides of the collaboration. The German side provided the specialist equipment required for the measurement of the gas phase inorganic species (molecular beam mass spectrometry), and the Monash side of the partnership provided expertise from the high temperature gasification side. Hence the benefits of international collaboration!

And I am just one of many researchers involved in international linkages in the area of brown coal innovation at Monash...

Professor Bhattacharya, who leads the Energy, Fuels and Reaction Engineering Group, has a long history of establishing international partnerships to facilitate innovative coal research projects with industry and academia alike. For example, my PhD project under his supervision was just a small part of his ongoing pioneering work in the area of entrained flow gasification of Victorian brown coal. His international partners in this field include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), who contribute technical expertise and represent the potential industrial applications of the research, and Penn State University, with whom equipment and expertise is shared in both directions to extend the scope of the research to new techniques and different coals (e.g., US lignites).

These collaborations have already delivered proof of concept of the technical feasibility of entrained flow (EF) gasification of Victorian brown coal and US lignites. The ability to extend the research to non-Australian coals is also important, as it proves the universality of the process. EF gasification of these low rank coals resulted in high carbon conversion and fuel gas quality, and appropriate gasification and slag process temperatures have been established. The results compare favourably with fluidised bed gasification technologies, and joint publications with the international partners are in preparation. This project has also attracted the interest of fuel companies in India and Japan, and negotiations for collaborative projects with these new international partners are underway.


Professor Bhattacharya is also leading an ongoing series of projects which started with the first ever investigation of chemical looping combustion of Victorian brown coal. This body of work involves partnerships with Alstom (Germany), VITO (Belgium), Southeast University (China) and Huazhong University of Science and Technology (China). Alstom and VITO are involved with Monash through Professor Bhattacharya in collaborative experimental work and techno-economical process assessments, and joint publications based on these results are in progress. The collaborative activities with the two Chinese university partners predominantly involve the reciprocal exchange of researchers for experimental work, which has resulted in eight joint publications and three conference presentations to date.

CLC experiments at the Australian Synchrotron (Shuai Zhang, visiting PhD student from Southeast University, China (left) and Monash PhD student, Sharmen Rajendran (right).

Dr Lian Zhang, a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Monash, is also very active on the international stage of collaborative brown coal research. Dr Zhang is an alumnus of Chubu University Japan, where he began his career in advanced clean energy technologies. His extensive list of international linkages includes the deployment of oxy-fuel combustion technology for Victorian brown coal with Chubu University (Japan), Jiaotong University (China) and Shanghai Boiler Works Co Ltd (SBWL, China), who are an industrial partner on the project. While oxy-fuel combustion of brown coal has previously been investigated academically, the linkage between research and industry partners is paramount to its successful deployment for direct power generation and for cement rotary kilns in the construction industry. The collaboration has led to a total of 15 journal papers, one conference paper and one book chapter.

Also related to the development of brown coal products for the cement industry, Dr Zhang is working in conjunction with China Huadian Electric Research Institute (CHDER) and ICOG Australia on the extraction of high purity MgO from brown coal fly ash for use in the production of MgO board and cement additives, another industrial application and potential export market for our local resources. A total of 10 papers have been published in this area, and now a provisional patent has been lodged.

As well as working on the advancement of coal-only processes, Dr Zhang is very active in the field of fuel blending. For example, he has assembled researchers from Chubu University, Gifu University (Japan), Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT), Zhengzhou Zhongneng Metallurgy Co Ltd (China), Coal Energy Australia (CEA), Gippsland Clean Energy (GCE) and SBWL to investigate the potential for increasing the value of Victorian brown coal and other low rank coals by blending with biomass and industrial wastes. This project targets the production of export-grade semi-coke from low rank coal to supplement or replace coking coals in metallurgical processes. A total of five journal papers have been published, and a provisional patent will be lodged shortly.

Dr Zhang’s semi-coke investigations extend to a related international partnership with aims to determine the efficacy of brown coal semi-coke and high rank coal blends in mitigating the undesirable behaviour of each individual fuel. The use of entrained flow gasification technology to utilise these fuel blends may open up a market for brown coal semi-coke, leading to a new export product. This project involves Kailuan Coal R&D Centre (China), Hubei Yihua Group Co Ltd (China), and CEA, who all work together on the research, technical and market aspects of the project. Also in conjunction with Hubei Yihua Group Co Ltd, Dr Zhang is advancing the development of a novel de-ashing process to selectively remove sodium and calcium from coal. This simplifies the waste discharge from coal-fired boilers and other applications, and mitigates downstream corrosion and harmful environmental emissions, which are known complications of these elements. A patent has been filed for coal de-ashing, and one conference paper was published in this area.


In summary, the international linkages developed and maintained by the brown coal researchers at Monash University are paramount to the success of their projects. They provide invaluable support, experience and specialist equipment, without which it would not be possible to conduct our research to the high standard for which we are known. In fact, I don’t think it is overstating the case to say that the flow-on effects in terms of meeting new partners through these networks and projects, and the endless potential for new ideas and applications makes international linkages the very lifeblood of modern research.




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