Wise coal min­ers know the need to go clean

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources - An­drea Mayes

BILL Moody is the first to ad­mit coal suf­fers from a ma­jor im­age prob­lem in a world grap­pling with the new re­al­i­ties of cli­mate change. But the gen­eral man­ager of mar­ket­ing and de­vel­op­ment at Pre­mier Coal be­lieves it is an im­age that is grad­u­ally be­ing over­come by a new at­ti­tude to­wards the en­vi­ron­ment on the part of savvy coal min­ers.

‘‘ We’re well aware that our prod­uct is un­der the spot­light, and not in a pos­i­tive way, but we think we can prove that we are se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing the is­sues and en­sur­ing the in­dus­try has a fu­ture,’’ he said.

Pre­mier Coal, part of the Wes­farm­ers group, has an open cut mine at Col­lie, south of Perth, which pro­duces around five mil­lion tonnes of coal per year. Most of its coal is fed via gi­ant con­veyor belts to the nearby Col­lie and Muja power sta­tions, owned by the state gov­ern­ment.

The com­pany has worked hard to re­duce its green­house gas emis­sions over the past 15 years or so, and is pin­ning hopes — and in­vest­ing money — on new low-emis­sions tech­nol­ogy it be­lieves will save the in­dus­try.

‘‘ Prac­ti­cally speak­ing, coal-fired power sta­tions can’t just be turned off,’’ he said. ‘‘ At Pre­mier we’ve re­ally tried to re­dou­ble our ef­forts to be re­spon­si­ble in the way we run our op­er­a­tions with a view to en­vi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance, safety and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment. I think we’ve had a very long-term approach to im­prove­ments in our CO

2 emis­sions, which have grad­u­ally been com­ing down since 1992.’’

Emis­sions have been cut by 50 per cent per unit of pro­duc­tion since 1994, which has re­sulted in ma­jor ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ments, and Moody be­lieves there is scope for still more re­duc­tions. ‘‘ That’s come about be­cause of a ma­jor change in the way we ran our op­er­a­tions — switch­ing from un­der­ground min­ing to more ef­fi­cient open-cut, and we’ve also brought in more ef­fi­cient equip­ment and plan­ning pro­cesses. Last year we achieved a 6.8 per cent im­prove­ment on emis­sions from an al­ready re­duced base, and I think we can im­prove it even more.’’

Un­like coal from many mines in east­ern Aus­tralia, Col­lie coal is meth­ane-free and low in ash and sul­phur. A re­cent in­ter­na­tional trial of Pre­mier’s coal found it well-suited to gasi­fi­ca­tion, one of the new low-emis­sion tech­nolo­gies. Gasi­fi­ca­tion uses oxy­gen at high pres­sure to break coal into com­po­nents such as hy­dro­gen and car­bon monox­ide, which are then sub­sti­tuted for coal as fuel.

‘‘ We’re very ex­cited about gasi­fi­ca­tion — we re­ally think it is go­ing to be the new gen­er­a­tion in low emis­sions tech­nol­ogy,’’ said Moody. ‘‘ We’re in a tran­si­tion phase at the mo­ment but we be­lieve low-emis­sion coal tech­nol­ogy will be com­mer­cially proven within the next 5 to 10 years. It’s a cru­cial part of meet­ing the cli­mate-change chal­lenge.’’

Pre­mier Coal helps fund the Coal21 Fund— an in­dus­try body set up to sup­port re­search into the new clean-coal tech­nolo­gies — with more than $600,000 a year. ‘‘ I think we’ve got to sup­port th­ese things be­cause I think the next few years are not go­ing to be easy for the coal in­dus­try in gen­eral,’’ Moody said.

‘‘ It’s go­ing to re­quire huge ad­just­ments, but I do think coal can emerge as a win­ner if we get be­hind th­ese new de­vel­op­ments.’’

Wes­farm­ers’ Re­sources di­vi­sion has re­cently been ex­am­in­ing re­new­able en­ergy sources for pos­si­ble uses in its min­ing op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing Pre­mier. ‘‘ We’re par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in so­lar for Pre­mier Coal,’’ Moody said. ‘‘ It’s not quite eco­nomic yet, but we think we’re well sit­u­ated here in WA to take ad­van­tage of it in terms of gen­er­a­tion and con­tribut­ing to the net­work.’’

Pre­mier gained pos­i­tive me­dia cov­er­age last year with its de­ci­sion to use 10 per cent bio­fu­els in its min­ing truck fleet — the first com­pany in Aus­tralia to make such a com­mit­ment.

The ini­tia­tive was des­tined to re­duce car­bon diox­ide emis­sions by 1600 tonnes per an­num, but came to an un­for­tu­nate end in Novem­ber when the sup­plier, Aus­tralian Re­new­able Fu­els, was forced to close its WA op­er­a­tions.

‘‘ That was very dis­ap­point­ing for us — it was purely due to the ris­ing costs of the ma­te­ri­als used to make the bio­fu­els,’’ Moody said. He said Pre­mier is still ‘‘ ac­tively look­ing’’ for op­por­tu­ni­ties to use bio­fu­els and would be happy to sign a new agree­ment if an ap­pro­pri­ate sup­ply could be found.

Other cli­mate-friendly ini­tia­tives Pre­mier has im­ple­mented in­clude a hy­dro­car­bon man­age­ment pro­gram which re­duced en­gi­neoil con­sump­tion by 23 per cent last year, and the sub­sti­tu­tion of LNG for diesel in min­ing equip­ment and heavy haulage trucks.

‘‘ We’ve has some prob­lems with gain­ing ac­cep­tance of LNG fuel from en­gine sup­pli­ers be­cause it starts to af­fect war­ranties and per­for­mance of en­gines, but we’re work­ing through that,’’ Moody said. ‘‘ It’s im­por­tant be­cause it not only re­duces emis­sions, but it could also have im­pli­ca­tions for other min­ing op­er­a­tions as well.’’

West­ern Aus­tralia has a much lower reliance on coal as an en­ergy source than the rest of Aus­tralia — around 35 per cent for power gen­er­a­tion, com­pared with 85 per cent on the east coast.

How­ever, Moody be­lieves coal will con­tinue to have an im­por­tant role in power gen­er­a­tion at a state, na­tional, and in­ter­na­tional level.

‘‘ It re­ally comes down to en­cour­ag­ing new coal tech­nolo­gies to come on-stream — that’s go­ing to be the big­gest chal­lenge into the fu­ture,’’ he said.

Coal: Foward-look­ing min­ers em­brace en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and look to over­com­ing pub­lic per­cep­tion

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