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RESEARCH REPORTS

LEGACY REPORT – The unrealised potential of Victorian lignite: Researching the opportunities

Research funded by Brown Coal Innovation Australia (BCIA), later known as Australian Carbon Innovation (ACI), with support from Members, the Victorian and Australian Governments, established that Victoria’s unique lignite and CO2 storage capacity provide unmatched opportunities for new industries and skilled jobs in the Latrobe Valley that would contribute to the economic and social development of the state.


From 2009 – 2024, BCIA / ACI demonstrated a successful track record in management of lignite research, leveraging combined Victorian and Australian government funding of $15.9M into a $57.5M research portfolio. The projects funded were in three main areas: low-emissions power generation, improved CO2 capture technologies, and value-added products from lignite. The research supported around 40 postgraduate students and involved 47 government, industrial and research partner organisations, from Australia, China, Japan, USA, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium.


ACI also provided scholarships to 12 Engineering undergraduate students at Federation University, Churchill. These scholarships support local students to gain qualifications in skills needed as the region’s economy transitions away from traditional forms of power generation. A legacy scholarship program for Gippsland based STEM students has been set up by ACI to provide encouragement for future undergraduate students.


Unfortunately, research funding to ACI was discontinued by both the State and Australian Governments, forcing to wind up its operations as of 30 June 2024. This report provides a comprehensive summary of all the projects funded by BCIA / ACI during the 2009 – 2024 period, with a list of key published references where further information may be found. 

  • The unrealised potential of Victorian lignite: Researching the opportunities

POSITION PAPER – Net zero compatible uses for lignite

ACI commissioned Nous Group to prepare a position paper on the opportunities for establishing clean carbon-based industries in the Latrobe Valley as lignite power generation is phased out. The study was undertaken for the Committee for Gippsland, and was co-funded by ACI and Environmental Clean Technologies Pty Ltd.


The study found that Gippsland has a great opportunity to leverage its unique features, to attract investment and skilled workers into the region, and stimulate the economy.


New clean material and chemical industries will derive revenue to offset losses from power plant closures. It can create well paid, high-tech jobs, to replace an estimated 1400 direct jobs due to power plant closures, and many more indirect jobs. 


A blue hydrogen industry development would attract significant foreign investment and connect Victorian hydrogen to international markets. International funding and market opportunities would accelerate local hydrogen supply and demand.


A large range of exciting, new advanced materials, could boost exports and provide valuable feedstocks that could launch high-tech Australian industries such as solar cells, wind turbine blades, battery components, super conductors, and electronic components.


The study showed that products derived from Victorian lignite can be of benefit to existing industries in Gippsland, such as horticulture, agriculture, food processing, timber and paper, and sustainable construction. Hard-to-abate sectors, such as cement, can benefit from the establishment of CO2 capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure. 


However, more research is required for many of these applications to prove their technical and commercial feasibility.

JOURNAL ARTICLE – Net zero hydrogen from Victorian lignite

ACI was commissioned by the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions to deliver a feasibility study on production of net zero emissions hydrogen by gasification of Victorian lignite, utilising high efficiency carbon dioxide capture, heat integration, co-gasification with biomass and incorporation of renewable energy. 


The project was conducted as a collaboration between Monash University and ACI, investigating the feasibility of producing export quantities (770 t/d) of clean hydrogen meeting international standards, by gasification of Victorian lignite plus CCS.

 
The study involved a detailed Aspen Plus simulation analysis of the entire production process, focussing on the resources, energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions associated with production of gaseous and liquefied hydrogen, and taking into account fugitive methane emissions during lignite mining.


The study showed that both gaseous and liquefied hydrogen can be produced from Victorian lignite, along with all necessary electricity, with specific emissions intensity (SEI) within the EU Taxonomy limit of 3.0 kg CO2-e/kg H2. In addition, technical options are available to reduce the SEI to net-zero or even net-negative.

 
This work was published open-access in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.

JOURNAL ARTICLE – Net zero ammonia from Victorian lignite

ACI commissioned Monash University to extend the previous lignite-to-hydrogen simulation model to include synthesis and liquefaction of ammonia. The aim was to provide a direct comparison of the resource requirements and CO2 emissions intensity for production of export-quantities of liquefied hydrogen and ammonia from Victorian lignite.


Surprisingly, this study found that the electrical power requirement for ammonia synthesis is essentially the same as that needed for liquefaction of an equivalent output of hydrogen. On this basis both options are equally attractive, although ammonia synthesis is at a higher level of technological maturity than large-scale hydrogen liquefaction.


Again, the emissions intensity is very low – equivalent to next-generation natural gas reforming with CCS – and technical options are available to reduce emissions to net-zero or even net-negative. This analysis indicates that clean hydrogen in the form of ammonia, produced in Victoria by lignite gasification with CCS, can be consistent with global emissions reductions targets over the next few decades.

 
This work was published open-access in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.

RESEARCH REPORT – Opportunities for CO2 recycling in Victoria

ACI was commissioned by CarbonNet to undertake a comprehensive review of the opportunities for CO2 recycling in Victoria. The study involved an investigation of opportunities arising through the five major types of CO2 recycling process: direct use of CO2, biological conversion, inorganic carbonation, catalytic chemical conversion, and electrochemical conversion.


In each category, the study identified the companies that are championing commercial development of their processes, relevant research work (if any) currently under way in Victoria, plus ACI commentary on their readiness for commercialisation and the opportunities they present for Victoria. 


The report identified thirteen technologies that have potential to make significant and meaningful contributions to Victoria’s economic growth and emissions reduction efforts.

RESEARCH REPORT – Options for production of low-cost clean hydrogen for export

An ACI member company, Cleantech Energy Australia (CEA) commissioned CSIRO to estimate the cost of producing export quantities of clean hydrogen in 2030, when the “hydrogen society” in Japan is expected to ramp up. 


CSIRO conducted a desktop costing study in collaboration with Monash University and Gamma Energy Technology. The study was jointly funded by CEA and ACI, using funding from the Victorian government and Australian Low Emissions Coal Research and Development Ltd (ANLEC R&D). 


The study produced up-to-the-minute best estimates of the cost of producing clean hydrogen by three methods: pyrolysis of lignite with carbon capture and storage (CCS), gasification of lignite with CCS, and electrolysis of water using dedicated wind or solar renewable electricity. The costs are based on the best available cost estimate data and are focussed specifically on Victoria.

Please click on the link below to download the report.

RESEARCH REPORT - Next Generation Carbon Products in Victoria

The potential for products from Victorian lignite is an area that has not been researched in any serious way.  Traditionally coal was used for power generation, heating via briquettes and, for a short time, town gas production.  This report demonstrates the multiple pathways possible in the utilisation of an inexpensive, high-quality mineral that represents Victoria’s largest single resource.

FEASIBILITY STUDY - Regional Carbon Innovation Centre (RCIC)

Australian Carbon Innovation (ACI) and Federation University investigated the feasibility of establishing a Regional Carbon Innovation Centre (RCIC) in the Latrobe Valley. The proposed RCIC would be a large-scale research and demonstration facility for the Gippsland and Latrobe Region that will sustainably develop the regions’ carbon resources. 


The study was funded by Regional Development Victoria with contributions from Federation University and ACI.


The report includes consideration of the viability, key benefits, potential locations, planning considerations and demands for a facility, in support of an application for funding and subsequent planning and development stages.

RESEARCH REPORT - Lignite drying status report

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an independent, non-profit organization in the United States, commissioned ACI to review the status of technologies that can could potentially be used for drying of Victorian lignite.


The report provides an overview of the lignite drying technologies that are currently available and offered by commercial vendors, as well as some novel technologies that are not yet at commercial stage.

RESEARCH REPORT - Applications for Brown Coal in Australian Agriculture

BCIA prepared a literature review for its members on the agricultural applications of Victorian brown coal. Lignite or extracted humic substances can be used as soil amendments and in organomineral fertilisers. Lignite itself can be used as a carrier for microbial biofertilisers and to reduce ammonia and N2O emissions from beef cattle feedlots and other intensive animal-rearing systems. Humic acids can be used as animal feed supplements to improve animal health and growth rates. 


Amendment of farming soils with lignite can quickly improve soil health, leading to increased plant growth and photosynthesis. In turn, this results in more CO2 being captured from the atmosphere and stored as soil organic carbon. This is an inexpensive way to help offset Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.


The report includes recommendations for further research to ensure the quality and reliability of new agricultural products based on Victorian lignite. 
 

RESEARCH REPORT - Victorian based coal to chemicals

BCIA commissioned Strategic Energy Consulting Pty Ltd and Gamma Energy Technology Pty Ltd to identify the most prospective opportunities for low-emissions lignite-to-chemicals via gasification. The analysis was based on applying mature chemical technologies that have been applied recently in coal-to-chemicals plants, but assumed a first-of-a-kind build in Australia using current data for capital and construction costs in Victoria. 


It was found that the feasibility of a lignite-to-chemicals facility is dependent on the particular chemical produced. Hydrogen was identified as the most commercially prospective, but is sensitive to the cost of CO2 transportation and storage. Urea is also prospective, but would require capital subsidies or other financial instruments (e.g. loan guarantees) to lower the cost and make the process more economic. Both methanol and ammonia would require significant subsidies or assistance to become competitive. Synthetic petroleum products are not likely to be feasible unless the crude oil price is above $130 per barrel for the life of the facility.


The study found that a large workforce would be required to construct a lignite-to-chemicals facility, peaking at some 6,000 workers ranging from labourer through to skilled craftsmen and supervisors, over an eight-year construction period. In addition, 400 to 500 long-term operational roles would be created, depending upon the specific process involved, and three times that many local jobs to support these operational roles.

RESEARCH REPORT - Pilot-scale hydrogen membrane technology

BCIA member funds partially sponsored a pilot-scale evaluation of Praxair’s hydrogen separation membrane, in which hydrogen was purified from lignite-derived syngas. The project was undertaken by the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) in North Dakota. Praxair provided a pilot-scale hydrogen separation membrane that was tested on syngas produced in the EERC’s pilot-scale transport reactor development unit.


The goal of the project was to conduct a pilot-scale demonstration of lignite-to-hydrogen production technology using warm-gas clean-up techniques and Praxair’s hydrogen separation membrane. The baseline coal was a Powder River Basin lignite; also tested was a high-sodium Freedom lignite from North Dakota. The likely performance of Loy Yang and Lochiel lignites was evaluated using Aspen Plus modelling.


This project provided insight into the likely performance of Victorian lignite in an advanced gasification and hydrogen separation facility. The results were promising, suggesting that hydrogen production from Victorian likely is likely to be technically feasible.

RESEARCH REPORT – Dispersion modelling techniques for CO2 pipelines in Australia

CarbonNet commissioned BCIA to investigate the feasibility of designing a CO2 transportation pipeline using the current Australian Standard 2885, which was developed specifically for transport of natural gas and liquid petroleum. Consequence analysis in AS 2885 is based on the risk of flammability and explosion of a lighter-than-air gas, whereas CO2 is heavier-than-air and not flammable.

The project was conducted in two stages, with the first led by Ramboll Environ Australia and the second by Sherpa Consulting. Valuable international input was gained through technical contributions from Dr Stephen Hanna, an eminent expert in dense gas dispersion modelling, and through a critical review by Dr Simon Gant of the UK Health and Safety Laboratory, who was involved in recent European CO2 release projects.

The study found that sufficient information and modelling tools are available to allow a new CO2 pipeline to be designed in accordance with Australian Standard 2885. The project produced a comprehensive report that provides guidance on international best practice in modelling CO2 dispersion, and identifies appropriate modelling tools that can be used at different stages in the pipeline design process.

This guidance allows the risks associated with new CO2 pipelines to be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable, equivalent to the community expectations for natural gas pipelines.

 

RESEARCH REPORT – Oxygen-blown gasification of Victorian brown coals

BCIA commissioned CSIRO and Monash University to inform its members on the issues associated with oxygen-blown gasification of Victorian lignite. The project involved consultation with key technology developers, vendors and operators of oxygen-blown gasification facilities. The review focussed on the key issues anticipated when moving from air-blown to oxygen-blown lignite gasification and produced recommendations for research to address knowledge gaps.

The report highlights the state-of-the-art in commercially available plant, identifies issues that must be considered in choice of technologies, and pinpoints areas where there needs to be further research.

 

RESEARCH REPORT – Solar conversion of brown coal

Concentrating solar thermal technologies can drive a range of high temperature endothermic reactions. Accordingly, there is growing interest in various coal-solar hybrid systems, such as solar thermal gasification of coal and solar dissociation of CO2 for sustainable fuels production.

BCIA commissioned IT Power (Australia) Pty Ltd to prepare a briefing paper on solar gasification and its potential for implementation in Victoria.

Unfortunately, the Gippsland basin, which is the source of most of Victoria’s lignite, has one of the lowest levels of solar radiation in mainland Australia. However, it would be relatively inexpensive to transport lignite in slurry form via pipeline to Mildura, where there is an abundant solar resource.

The report found that gasification of lignite using solar heat would be marginally competitive with natural gas priced at $6/GJ, but would become more attractive as gas prices increase and the cost of solar technologies decrease. A more detailed feasibility study of technical options and costs was recommended.

 

RESEARCH REPORT – Carbon Capture Task Force

The Australian Government under the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative established the Carbon Capture Task Force to develop a National Carbon Mapping and Infrastructure Plan for geological storage of CO2. BCIA provided support for the study, along with ANLEC R&D and the Global CCS Institute.

The role of the Carbon Capture Task Force was to provide an independent assessment of the feasibility and cost of novel bio-sequestration and mineral sequestration techniques in Australia, and to make recommendations about appropriate R&D needs and priorities. 

The technologies investigated by the Task Force included large-scale cultivation of microalgae, mineral carbonation, forestry sequestration, soil carbon sequestration, and biochar.

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