How coal impacts the Australian environment and economy
Ayers Rock, Uluru, Australia - photo credit - Mads Herskind, http://unsplash.io
Welcome to the sixteenth edition of my weekly blog where I take a closer look at the policies adopted by individual countries in their efforts to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement. Particular attention is paid to the role that Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) research and technologies are playing in the drive to meet these requirements.
After taking a diversion last week, examining the ‘dirty dozen’ countries I am returning my focus this week to an individual country, Australia. Australia signed the Paris Agreement on the 22nd of April 2016 and brought it into force on the 9th of December 2016.
Australia was the thirteenth highest emitting nation of CO2 into the atmosphere based on data submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) ahead of COP21 in December 2015.
According to the Australian Department of Environment statistics for 2015, Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters by sector are stationary energy (53%), transport (18%) and agriculture (13%), with electricity /heat accounting for 68% of the energy contribution.
Electricity Generation and Coal Production
Australian Energy Statistics for 2014-15 published by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, show that 65% of electricity generation came from coal-fired plants. Not only is coal used for domestic purposes, Australia was the largest exporter of coal globally in 2015-16, contributing 388 million tonnes of coal or 89% of total production. The coal industry is worth roughly $40 billion dollars to the Australian economy.
India, Japan, China, and South Korea are Australia’s biggest markets for metallurgical coal at 23%, 22%, 20%, and 11% of all metallurgical coal exports sent to those markets or 76% in aggregate. In relation to thermal coal production, 41%, 19% and 15% of 2015-16 exports from Australia were sent to Japan, South Korea, and China respectively. Those of you who read my blog regularly may remember that all of these countries are major coal consumers. China consumes over 50% of all coal production in the world; India and South Korea are the second and fourth largest consumers.
Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS)
In relation to CCUS, Australia has three large-scale projects at various stages of development. Western Australia’s ‘South West Hub’ project, which is in early development, captures CO2 from a fertiliser producer and a coal-fired power plant at two separate sites south-east of Perth and transfers it by pipeline to the Harvey Region 100km away where it is stored 2 -3 km underground. Initial yearly capacity is expected to be in the region of 2.5 million tonnes with this rising to as much as 6 million tonnes in the coming years.
A second Western Australia project called ‘Gorgon Carbon Dioxide Injection Project’ is currently under construction and expected to be completed in 2017. This project will capture CO2 at the Jansz gas field and transport it by pipeline to Barrow Island where it will be stored 2.3km underground. It is estimated that this project will capture 100 million tonnes of CO2 over its lifecycle and reduce CO2 emissions by 40%.
Lastly, in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, the ‘CarbonNet Project’ is at an advanced development stage. This project will capture up to 5 million tonnes of carbon per annum from locally based industries and transport it by pipeline 130km to the Gippsland Basin offshore, where it will be stored 1.5km below the seabed.
In addition to these three-large scale projects, Australia has four other notable CCUS projects at various stages of development. Two are completed and capture carbon from coal-fired plants.
There is no doubt that Australia contributes significantly to global production and consumption of coal, however great strides have been made to reduce the environmental impact of this coal production. Nonetheless, Australia will need to diversify its sources of fuel in order to meet Paris Agreement targets. A recent study showed that a surge in energy production from renewables in October 2016 led to an emissions reduction of 3.6 million tonnes for the December quarter, a step in the right direction.
Next week’s blog will study how BioTechnology companies are using captured carbon in algae cultivation.