What is Australia’s ‘Natural Advantage’?

Its an interesting time here in Australia at the moment with the recent release of the Stern Report on the economic impacts of climate change this week, the government and oppositions arguments regarding what should be done and public opinion. Head to this article for a snapshot of the politics.

The PM’s position on this is that Australia’s interests to be panicked into measures that will hurt industries, that will give Australia a natural advantage. The opposition advocates portfolio of renewables – politics or response.

So what is the natural advantage of Australia? The traditional energy industries and PM highlight its reserves of coal, gas and uranium whilst the renewable sector highlight its abundant wave, wind and solar resources. One industry faced with the cost of cleaning up its act, the other faced with the challenges of market penetration and price competition. Australia’s cheap electricity from coal also provides a haven for energy intensive industries such as aluminium production – so where lies Australia’s future.

In the court of public opinion, A recent opinion poll commissioned by a coalition of green groups has found 86 per cent of voters think the Federal Government should be doing more to tackle climate change. The Newspoll has found 75 per cent of voters want the Government to sign the Kyoto protocol, while 80 per cent think big polluters should pay a tax on their emissions.

It also found 92 per cent of Australians do not believe the Government is doing enough to encourage clean technologies.

Clean Coal Technology

So, whilst all this is occurring there was the announcement of a number of Federal AP6 projects that have received funding, one in particular is a technology to clean up coal.

Here’s a few paragraphs from the story which you can chase up here

“CSIRO’s low-emission coal research program will be developing a post-combustion capture (PCC) technology as part of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6).”

“PCC is a process that captures carbon dioxide (CO²) from power station flue gasses and when coupled with Co2 sequestration the technology offers potential for near-zero emissions from power stations.”

“In a traditional power station flue gasses leaving the boiler are filtered to remove particles but still contain around 10 to 20 per cent CO²,” Dr Brockway said. “By incorporating PCC technology we will be able to capture up to 90 per cent of the CO² and permanently bury it using the technique of geosequestration.

“The research utilises a portable PCC pilot plant. The 11 metre, 20-tonne PCC test rig is transportable and made its way to today’s launch on the back of a truck. This flexible technology can be retro-fitted to existing power stations and will capture 1000 tonnes per annum of CO² during the initial stages of research.”

“PCC can be retro-fitted to existing power plants and integrated into new plants to achieve a range of greenhouse gas intensity reductions down to near-zero emissions,” he said.

“It is an incredibly flexible technology that offers a lower risk when compared with competing systems. PCC also enables the integration of renewable technologies in the process and can capture CO² from a range of stationary sources such as coal and gas-fired power stations, smelters, cement kilns and steel works.”

Ive hunted around and found a bit more about this technology

“Dr Louis Wibberley, leader of the PCC project team, says that PCC works by treating the flue gas at power stations to capture the CO2 emissions before release into the atmosphere. “The process involves cooling the flue gases (which typically contain five to 17 per cent CO2) and then capturing the CO2 by contacting the flue gas with a water-based solvent. This contacting occurs in a wash tower called an absorber. The water solution containing CO2 is pumped from the bottom of the absorber to a steam stripper.

“This device strips the CO2 from the water-based solvent, allowing it to be recycled to the absorber. The stripped CO2 is dehydrated and compressed to produce a liquid CO2 which can be pumped underground for permanent storage. We hope to be able to reduce GGEs from power stations by 95 per cent using PCC.”

Taking this into context, by achieving the separation of CO2 from flue gas its an important step. I’d still like to see some alternatives to CO2 geo-sequestration, such as solar algae technology achieving a level of commercialisation success. But the challenges of these approaches currently require facilities that can operate on a massive scale to deal with current emissions


Nick Bruse is the General Manager of Clean Technology AustralAsia Pty Ltd; the organiser of the AustralAsian Cleantech Forums, and the leading advocate of Cleantech in Australia. Clean Technology AustralAsia was established in 2004 with the mission to build and service the AustralAsian Cleantech Network of companies and investors and position them for success in local, national and international markets.

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