Now, here’s a great spot for a coal port
“A $3 billion rail line and port concept connecting the Latrobe Valley to the Bass Straight via a port at McGauran's Beach has emerged as the preferred export route by developers of alternative brown coal technologies”.
What could go wrong?
The state government continues to hope that it will be able to develop a brown coal export industry here in Victoria.
It has recently come to light that “a $3 billion rail line and port concept connecting the Latrobe Valley to the Bass Straight via a port at McGauran's Beach on the Ninety Mile Beach …is … the preferred export route by developers of alternative brown coal technologies”.
[above: McGauran's Beach, a lovely spot for a coal export facility]
In May 2013, the Victorian government said that it wanted to see development of ‘next generation’ coal mines in the Latrobe Valley. An export industry will need new mines, new roads, new infrastructure and new ports.
It will be deeply unpopular, both in Gippsland and metropolitan Melbourne. Yet the government continues to peddle its vision of 1950s technology re-born as being ‘clean and green’. The community can defeat this proposal.
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what does the government plan?
While people who understand the imperatives of climate science support the need for a rapid transition away from coal to renewable energy, the Victorian government is going in the opposite direction.
Below is a list of the many possible uses the government would like to see brown coal allocated to.
And in its May 2013 response to the ‘Inquiry into Greenfields mineral exploration and project development in Victoria’, the Victorian government said that it wanted to see development of ‘next generation’ coal mines in the Latrobe Valley.
Longer summary here.
The Earth Resources Development Council has suggested how the future may emerge for the brown coal industry in Victoria over the next 30 years and the options for the following technologies.
New opportunities for brown coal
In addition to using the resource to meet Victoria’s demand for electricity, technologies today present new opportunities for lower emissions electricity generation and new coal derivative products, through drying and gasifying coal, and converting it to liquids.
Converting coal to liquid or gaseous fuels
Technology to convert coal to liquid or gaseous fuels has been available in various forms since the 1920s, but costs had rendered it uncompetitive.
However, in an increasingly energy hungry world, the economics are changing. As a low cost feedstock, coal converted into commodities such as diesel, methanol and its derivatives has the potential to compete with traditional feedstocks and other energy alternatives, such as oil, gas and black coal.
Drying brown coal
The adoption of suitable drying technologies is expected to enable brown coal to be exported and compete directly in black coal markets as an energy and feedstock resource.
Potential coal derivative products
Coal derivative products present exciting opportunities and some challenges for Victoria’ brown coal.
Solid fuel products
In its raw form, brown coal can be used for boiler fuel in power generation. Drying technologies can transform the product into high energy briquettes and pellets that may compete with black coal as an exportable fuel.
Chars and cokes may potentially be derived from brown coal for pyrometallugical applications, to produce reductants and carbonising chemicals and as a general carbon source for other applications.
Calcium loaded char can be used in water and waste treatment and as an ion-exchange medium.
In the future, brown coal may even be refined into a purer form of carbon for use in production of a myriad of carbon products including carbon fibres, carbon anodes, activated carbons, filter aids, pigments, graphite lubricants and conductors and formed carbon materials.
Gasification can be used to convert solid coal into a gaseous feedstock, which can be used in a range of other products.
Gasification produces synthesis gas - syngas, a mixture of mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The process can also help with separation and sequestration of carbon dioxide.
Victoria has had a long history of brown coal gasification. It provided town gas in the Latrobe Valley before natural gas from Bass Strait became available in the 1960s.
The emerging potential of underground gasification
Underground coal gasification has emerging potential to produce syngas. The process may be able to exploit low quality, economically un-mineable deeper coal seams with relatively low capital investment.
For underground coal gasification to become a viable large scale industry, issues surrounding the predictability and controllability of syngas for certain applications needs to be managed.
Liquid products from coal can be produced either from syngas via gasification or by the direct liquefaction of brown coal.
Gasification can produce liquid fuel products such as diesel, methanol, fuel gasoline blends, and high octane gasoline extenders.
Liquefaction generally produces lower quality products, such as synthetic crude oil. Further processing may be used to produce fuel oil, diesel, motor fuel blends, kerosene and heating oil. Non-fuel products may also be produced including solvents, polymers, surfactants, lubricants and a suite of other carbon-based chemicals.
Waxes, resins and polymers
A range of waxes may be produced using products derived from brown coal, as well as phenolic resins and plastics, composites, low strength structural and building materials.
Raw brown coal can be used as a soil conditioner by providing a source of humic acids for potting mixtures and market gardens and as an ad-mixture to other fertilisers and soil conditioners.
Syngas manufactured from coal can be used to produce ammonia, the key pre-curser to nitrogenous fertilisers. At present these fertilisers are more commonly made from oil and natural gas based feedstocks.
New technology research
The Victorian Government provides direct support for industry-led low emissions coal technology development through its Energy Technology Innovation Strategy (ETIS).
The DPI, which administers the government’s ETIS program, works alongside local and international industry partners, major research bodies, academia and investors to prepare these technologies for market uptake and commercialisation.
Through these partnerships, the strategy seeks to balance both the environmental and economic impacts of climate change.