What are low emissions coal technologies?

Low emissions coal technologies increase the energy efficiency and improve the environmental performance of coal in producing electricity. These technologies aim to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), and mitigate associated environmental impacts. While increasing the thermal efficiency of coal technologies (such as High Efficiency Low Emission technologies (HELE) will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, greater reductions in CO2 emissions from coal fired power stations are achievable through the capture of CO2 emissions before or after the energy from coal is extracted, and then safely storing it away from the atmosphere in a secure and permanent manner. This is a process known as Carbon Capture and Storage.

What is carbon capture and storage?

The most commonly discussed low emissions coal technology is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

It is a key part of NSW's long-term energy strategy and is an important option for reducing CO2 emissions across the state over the next 40 years, particularly for the NSW Government aspirational target of zero-net emissions by 2050.

CCS is the process whereby CO2 emissions are captured from large industrial facilities – such as power stations – and are then transported through pipelines and permanently stored in deep, secure underground geological formations. This process stops those emissions from entering the atmosphere.

CCS will enable NSW to manage coal resources in a sustainable manner and will enable coal to continue to contribute to the NSW economy in a carbon-constrained world. By reducing emissions from industry, CCS will also underpin the transition to low-carbon electricity generation.

Why do we need these technologies?

Coal mining is one of the most significant contributors to the NSW economy. Coal is a key component in the manufacture of steel and cement and also provides approximately 80% of NSW's electricity production. Coal-fired electricity generation provides affordable power and underpins a reliable and secure electricity grid, thereby contributing to the State’s productivity, comparative advantage and prosperity.

Although coal provides most of the energy required to power our industries and homes, burning coal to produce electricity is a carbon-intensive energy option and emits a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2015 NSW's coal-fired power stations emitted approximately 46 million tonnes of CO2 or just over one-third of NSW’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In the same year approximately 15 million tonnes of CO2 was emitted from coal mining as fugitive emissions. This together represents 45 per cent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions1.

In December 2015, 195 countries (including Australia) signed the Paris Agreement (the Agreement) to limit worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise (this century) below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.’2 The Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.

The Agreement requires all Parties to reach their maximum potential through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes the requirement that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts3. Under an Agreement applicable to all, Australia will implement an economy-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 20304.

To complement the Commonwealth Government’s 2030 emission reduction targets, the NSW Government has announced an aspirational transitional target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this target by 2050 will require a significant reduction in the emissions caused by the energy sector, particularly from coal combustion for electricity generation and industrial processes.

To effectively and sustainably manage NSW coal resources and reap the economic benefits, future solutions are needed to reduce coal-based emissions.

CCS technologies provide a significant option to reduce the environmental impact of using coal as a source of electricity, and in manufacturing, by cost effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions whilst maintaining energy reliability, security and affordability.

The International Energy Agency5 has modelled that to reach net-zero emissions, low emissions coal technologies such as CCS must be utilised.

1 Department of Environment and Energy, Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System, 2017, viewed on 22 December 2017, http://ageis.climatechange.gov.au/NGGI.aspx

2 http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php

3 Ibid

4 http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/research-and-publications/publications-search/nsw-climate-change-policy-framework

5 https://www.carbonbrief.org/iea-world-can-reach-net-zero-emissions-by-2060-meet-paris-climate-goals

For further information
Coal Innovation NSW