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Fill ‘er up with coal, thanks

Peter Jean

December 26, 2008 12:00am

THAT lump of coal in your Christmas stocking might not be so useless after all.

Coal once powered steam trains and within decades it could be fuelling cars and trucks, ending Australia’s dependence on oil imports.

Synthetic fuel extracted from coal is being considered for use as a low carbon emitting substitute for petrol.

It has been estimated up to 20 per cent of Australia’s transport fuel needs could be supplied from coal by 2050.

Australia has enough black coal to last 180 years and 25 per cent of the world’s recoverable supplies of brown coal.

A report by the federal Parliamentary Library says coal can be dissolved, combined with hydrogen and refined to produce fuel suitable for use in transport.

“Whether a direct or indirect process is used, the resulting synthetic transport fuels are cleaner-burning than diesel and petrol, with no sulphur emissions, and lower nitrous oxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbon, and carbon monoxide emissions,” report author Julie Styles wrote.

Dangerous carbon gases are removed during the production process and could theoretically be stored underground. Other waste is non-hazardous and could be used as a building material.

Dr Styles said high capital costs could limit the growth of the carbon-to-liquid industry.

But this could change after the Rudd Government’s carbon pollution reduction scheme begins.

“If (carbon capture and storage) technology and deployment matures, this may provide the economic conditions under which coal-to-liquid could become viable,” she said.

About 30 per cent of South Africa’s transport fuel comes from coal.

Monica Richter from the Australian Conservation Foundation said coal-to-liquid was not the answer to Australia’s transport fuel needs because it took large amounts of energy to produce.

“From the point of view of trying to meet a greenhouse commitment it’s absolutely the wrong way to go,” Ms Richter said.

Royal Dutch Shell and Anglo-American recently shelved a $5 billion project to convert coal to diesel in the Latrobe Valley until further research was carried out.

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