Low emission coal programs

The Victorian Government's role in facilitating innovation

Victoria enjoys an international reputation for leadership in scientific research and development. The knowledge generated by Victorian R&D – and the conversion of R&D into commercial processes and products – is vital for boosting the competitiveness of the state’s economy and delivering significant economic and social benefits to Victorians.

The Victorian Government has adopted the role of ‘strategic investor’ in innovation, developing and funding projects where there is obvious market failure or unknown market opportunity, and where there is a significant gap in private sector investment.

In addition to funding key industry and research stakeholders, resources have been allocated to improve collaboration where unique strategic opportunities exist. Generally, this investment has occurred at the early stages of the research-to-market ‘continuum’, where technical and market risk remains high.

Lignite (brown coal) related projects

Nippon Steel Engineering

$2 million was provided by Regional Development Victoria to Nippon Steel Engineering to investigate the feasibility of technology aiming to convert Victorian lignite (brown coal) into a viable substitute for natural gas.

Carbon storage trial

$4 million was provided by ETIS to the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC) for a trial of carbon dioxide storage in the Otway Basin. This innovative, world-leading project is underway in south-western Victoria to demonstrate that carbon capture and storage is a technically viable and environmentally safe way to make deep cuts into Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The CO2CRC Otway Project is the country’s first demonstration of the deep geological storage, or geosequestration, of CO2. The project provides technical information on geosequestration processes, technologies, and monitoring and verification regimes that will help to inform public policy and industry decision-makers while also providing assurance to the community.

The project is the world’s largest research and geosequestration demonstration project, with over 65,000 tonnes of CO2 injected and stored in a depleted gas reservoir deep underground, and with further injections into different formations planned. The project includes an outstanding monitoring program, which international and national scientists believe to be the most comprehensive of its type in the world.

Lessons learned from the project, particularly from the comprehensive monitoring program, will be adopted by other geosequestration projects around the world.

Lignite (brown coal) research and development

Brown Coal Innovation Australia

Brown Coal Innovation Australia (BCIA) was established in 2009 with an initial $15 million in funding provided by the Victorian Government. BCIA currently manages multi-million dollar state and commonwealth funding, and serves as the Australian National Low Emissions Coal R&D Brown Coal node.

BCIA is a not-for-profit, member-based company with a mandate to invest in the development of skills, networks and low-emissions technologies that will broaden the sustainable use of Australia’s world-class lignite (brown coal) resource.

BCIA co-invests to support R&D initiatives that are technically excellent and that will lead to increased commercial deployment of low-emissions lignite technologies in the short, medium and long term. The company also contributes to intelligence gathering and analysis of global R&D for its rapidly growing membership and the broader Australian and global community.

In addition to research grants, BCIA has made significant investment in skills development for lignite R&D, including the appointment of two Research Leader Fellowships, an annual program of postgraduate research scholarships and the significant training and educational opportunities created via the company’s R&D portfolio.

The company has formed strategic relationships with other influential organisations in the low-emissions and innovation sectors. BCIA is a member of CO2CRC – one of the world’s leading carbon capture and storage collaborative research institutes – and through the Australian Coal Industry Consortium. BCIA is also a member of the International Energy Agency’s Clean Coal Centre, and has reciprocal membership with the Japan Coal Energy Center.

BCIA is also the manager of projects under an agreement between the Victorian Government and Japan’s Kyushu Electric Power Company (KEPCO) to collaborate on research and development involving high level utilisation of lignite.

In 2009, the Victorian Government and KEPCO each committed up to $250,000 per annum over three years for complementary collaborative projects in their respective regions. In Victoria the projects are led by Monash University and include:

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$212,000 to investigate whether cheap carbon derived from Victorian lignite (brown coal) can be used to adsorb carbon captured from coal and gas-fired electricity generation ready for storage. The University of Melbourne and Australian Char were also involved in the project.

Research efforts in this project were directed to production of mesoporous adsorbents from brown coal for CO2 capture, using organometallic catalysts. Mesoporous carbons were prepared using steam activation catalysed by cerium, lanthanum and yttrium, and some were modified further by surface impregnation with polyethyleneimine.

All of the resulting mesoporous carbons exhibited a higher CO2 adsorption capacity than a leading commercial activated carbon.

Leading on from the successful outcomes of this project, Brown Coal Innovation Australia is supporting further development of CO2 adsorbents from brown coal at Monash University and the University of Melbourne, as part of the EU-Australia cooperative project, MATESA.

$238,000 to investigate whether Victorian lignite (brown coal) can be heated and chemically treated to become similar to coking coal, which is used in the production of steel.

Coking coal has become rarer and more expensive as global steel demand grows. CSIRO, HRL Technology and Australian Char were also involved in this project.

Blast furnace coke must be able to maintain its mechanical strength while it reacts with CO2, to maintain the permeability of the reaction bed. The hard char produced by pyrolysis of Victorian brown coal is known to be too reactive, quickly breaking down to fines. Research efforts in this project were directed to production of hard, low reactivity cokes from brown coal.

Combinations of thermal coal treatments, binding agents and processing conditions were investigated. Briquettes were produced and tested for compressive strength and reactivity.

The project was successful in producing a briquetted product with acceptably low reactivity by using a combination of optimised processing conditions and a binder material derived from brown coal.

Opportunities to commercialise this valuable intellectual property are being explored with proponents of the Advanced Lignite Demonstration Program.

$269,000 for a project looking at the gasification of lignite (brown coal) and ways to improve the synthetic gas produced to develop value added products. HRL Technology is a project partner.

Dimethyl Ether (DME) is a non-toxic, environmentally benign fuel which is actively being developed as a diesel substitute for motor vehicles. It is currently produced by catalytic conversion of methanol, which is not an efficient process.

Research efforts in this project were directed to production of DME by gasification of Victorian brown and one-pot synthesis using bi-functional catalysts (hydrogenation plus methanol dehydration).

DME was successfully produced at yields of 35–40% using mixtures of commercial catalysts as well as three new bi-functional catalysts developed at Monash University. A detailed process design model was also developed.

This project successfully established the feasibility of efficient production of DME from Victorian brown coal. Monash University is continuing work to develop improved catalysts for this application.

More information

For more information on BCIA or lignite (brown coal) R&D funding opportunities, visit:

Or contact BCIA Research Investment Manager, David McManus:

Page last updated: 02 Jun 2021