Coal Future

Coal Future

New future for brown coal
A step-change in technologies through significant investment in research and development is required to secure a sustainable future for brown coal and exploit the value of Victoria's world-class resource.

The bulk of energy production world-wide is produced from carbon-based products and global electricity demand is expected to grow at an annual average rate of at least 2.5% per annum over the next two decades. By 2030, coal is expected to account for more than 40% of the world's fuel needs for power generation. In addition, a significant and sustained increase in the pricing of oil and gas is expected to shift demand towards alternative energy sources. This will provide novel exploitation opportunities for the conversion of brown coal to liquids and other high-value commodities.

Brown coal and other low rank coals, such as lignite and sub-bituminous coals, are characterised by high moisture levels and a low carbon content. Technology innovation that improves the efficiency of the combustion process will simultaneously lower the rate of CO
2 emissions. In the long-term, the use of brown coal for both value-added products and electricity generation cannot continue without the application of technologies to reduce or capture CO2.

Global economic growth with a smaller carbon footprint requires investment in innovation across a portfolio of energy sources including low-emissions technologies for fossil fuels. However there are a number of significant technical, economic and social challenges to achieving this goal.
  • The skills base required to support the exploitation of brown coal has depleted significantly in Australia during the last two decades. Skills capacity is a major issue for current and future coal-based industries throughout the world.
  • Private sector capacity and capability, including cash availability for brown coal R&D, is generally limited in Australia.
  • Improved technology for brown coal use involves substantial costs and time (up to 20 years from research concept to market deployment). Under-investment in research and development will significantly disadvantage brown coal relative to other fuel and feedstock types.
  • Generally R&D into brown coal has focused on power generation and efficient water removal technologies. More recently novel exploitation opportunities for the conversion of brown coal to liquids and other high-value commodities are being explored.

BCIA is addressing the challenges and opportunities of securing a sustainable future for brown coal by facilitating shared research and development activity between industry, research and government stakeholders, nationally and throughout the world. Strategic management of investment in R&D underpins BCIA's innovation support and operational activities.
  • Advance and accelerate innovative technologies in Australia by supporting focused, collaborative research in high priority technologies.
  • Retain local expertise in, and attract international expertise to, Australia in brown coal-related technologies.
  • Support growth in skills and capacity in Australian brown coal-related technologies for the domestic and international markets.
  • Make research results available (respecting intellectual property protection) to BCIA’s funders and to the Australian public.

Beyond emissions reduction, future international price indications for oil, gas and metallurgical coal provide new exploitation opportunities for the conversion of brown coal to liquids and other high-value commodities. Prospective new feedstock opportunities for carbon include light-weight construction materials, such as carbon fibre, and production of carbon semiconductors which are currently being explored by the computer chip industry as a replacement for silicon.

In association with industry and our tertiary education partners, BCIA is focused strongly on skills-development for the brown coal industry through the expansion of training opportunities. The availability and accessibility of human resource expertise is of critical concern for current and future coal-based industries throughout the world. We aim to secure the scientific, engineering and trades expertise needed to develop low-emissions brown coal technologies.