|Dr Phil Gurney|
BCIA Chief Executive Officer
|As regular readers of Perspectives will know, BCIA invests in research and development activity to accelerate the deployment of a wide range of low emissions applications of brown coal. One area that does not receive much attention from the general public is the agricultural use of coal, which includes coal-derived soil conditioners and fertilisers. I hope that this issue of Perspectives will shine some light on these exciting opportunities.|
|In addition to the articles on agricultural uses of coal, you will find an update on the IEA’s Clean Coal Technologies conference that I attended in Poland, and an article by Erik Meuleman on the safety issues of working with CO2, as well as BCIA’s regular Research and Skills update sections. In the Skills section, you will also find information on Mamun Mollah and Sharmen Rajendran, two PhD students who have now completed their work on BCIA funded projects. Both have now submitted their PhD theses, and are looking for their next job – please follow up with them if you know of any suitable opportunities.|
The four main articles in this issue show how coal and coal derivatives can be used to improve soil health and achieve competitive yields at reduced input cost. In terms of carbon emissions, agriculture is the fourth largest sector of Australia’s economy, contributing nearly half the emissions of the electricity sector. As you will see, by improving productivity and offsetting the use of more carbon intensive fertilisers, coal-derived products can make a contribution to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of the agriculture sector.
The gasification route for coal-to-urea is well known and there are a significant number of these plants built worldwide, with plans for the development of a project in the Latrobe valley in Australia – however this route for coal-to-fertiliser is carbon intensive unless carbon capture and sequestration is used. Alternate coal-derived fertilisers and soil conditioners aim to make use of the humic and fulvic acids from brown coal, and the ability of coal to build soil structure and beneficial microbial communities.
As you will see in the article by Tony Patti of Monash University, brown coal and coal-derived products can have quite dramatic effects on plant growth. However, the research indicates that the success of such products – on their own – depends on a favourable combination of plant species, microbial community and environmental factors.
|In the course of this research, it became clear that ionic groups on the surface of brown coal can bind to plant nutrients, particularly ammonium and phosphate. This led to the novel idea that a combination of brown coal or humates with chemical fertilisers could deliver greater fertiliser use efficiency by releasing the nutrients more slowly. Research to date indicates that combinations of fertilisers with brown coal can improve the plant availability of both urea and superphosphate, and can substantially reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with urea applications.|
Fertilisers need to be applied using conventional methods such as spraying for liquids, or application of pellets for solid fertilisers. Torreco and Feeco Australia have been contributing to the research, by applying novel torrefaction and granulation processes that can efficiently dry brown coal and other difficult-to-handle biomaterials, making them much easier to grind and granulate. With the success achieved to date, these companies are looking to scale up their facilities, to allow production of small commercial batches of fertiliser for large-scale field trials and market evaluation.
The Australian Government's Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) provides financial incentives for implementation of low-emissions farming practices. These emissions reduction projects compete on price for a contract to deliver Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs). Corporate Carbon is an aggregator company that manages all of the necessary registration, implementation, monitoring, reporting, audit and ACCU issuance activities. Corporate Carbon's article shows how coal derived fertilisers could be used to create ACCUs is in association with irrigated cotton crops, where the emphasis is on reducing the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, but that a change in methodology would be required to allow the issuance of ACCUs for coal-derived fertilisers used on grazing land.
I hope that you enjoy this ‘ground breaking’ issue of Perspectives.