Making cleaner coal a reality
Few challenges have captured the attention and budgets of the world’s major industries and governments quite like the drive to produce clean, sustainable energy.
Joining the international push to find better ways to generate power without sacrificing the environment, the University of Newcastle’s Professor Terry Wall and Professor Behdad Moghtaderi are working with colleagues across Australia, Asia and Europe.
Wall and Moghtaderi lead the clean coal and renewable energy programs at the University’s Priority Research Centre for Energy.
Wall says, "Coal is a significant source of power and an important export-earner for Australia. Burning coal to create electricity, however, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at levels which are environmentally unsustainable. Our research attempts to balance the ongoing use of this important resource with the needs of the environment."
Clean coal technologies involve releasing energy from coal to generate electricity, while at the same time concentrating carbon dioxide to levels that can be compressed to a liquid-like state and stored geologically.
Oxyfuel combustion technology is one clean coal technology project the team has been working on. Oxyfuel combustion technology involves burning coal with oxygen rather than air, producing a concentrated stream of carbon dioxide which is easier to capture and store.
Moghtaderi’s team is also working on a second generation clean coal technology known as chemical looping combustion (CLC) - an $800,000 project jointly funded by the Australian Research Council, Newcastle Port Corporation and the University of Newcastle.
Chemical looping aims to dramatically increase efficiency in the combustion of coal by capturing carbon dioxide produced during energy generation. The process uses metal oxide oxygen carriers to supply necessary amounts of oxygen to complete the combustion of fuel.
However, the researchers believe clean coal technologies are just one part of the clean energy picture. Moghtaderi and his team are also investigating renewable energy – geothermal (heat from the Earth), solar, wind, and biomass (plantations and vegetation that can be re-grown).
"Unlike fossil fuels such as coal, using renewable energy sources to produce electricity emits minimal carbon dioxide. In the case of wind, solar and geothermal, there are no emissions at all," explains Moghtaderi.
The team’s research is focusing on the development of systems and processes to more efficiently use renewable energy sources. The Priority Research Centre for Energy is concentrating on geothermal, wind and biomass, which the International Energy Agency predicts will collectively provide approximately 12 per cent of the world’s primary energy demand by 2030.
According to Wall, the solution to the world’s energy problems is a team effort. "One of the exciting elements of this research is the significant collaboration – both at the local level in the University, and at the global level with researchers working together across the world. Different perspectives present different solutions. Every day as a global team we move another step closer to finding better ways to meet the community’s energy needs."