A new energy innovation developed by Australian scientists has the potential to slash the emissions levels of brown coal-generated power by as much as 50 per cent.

The new technology, developed by the CSIRO, involves the conversion of coal or biomass into a water-based slurry called micronised refined carbon (MRC).

The MRC is introduced directly into a large-scale Direct Injection Carbon Engine (DICE) which has been specifically designed to process the converted material in a manner akin to diesel fuel.

The DICE engine is capable of using the adulterated fuel to produce extreme temperatures and pressure levels, which makes it capable of powering electrical generators with the highest efficiency of any combustion technology.

In CSIRO laboratory and pilot scale tests DICE has delivered generation efficiencies in excess of 50 per cent, as compared to existing coal-fired power stations, which generally run at between 33 and 38 per cent.

CSIRO Energy Group executive Alex Wonhas said the new technology could enable Australia to exploit its brown coal reserves with greater efficiency while lessening the environmental impact of the fuel.

“Australia has the second largest brown coal resource in the world but current utilisation technologies are carbon intensive so we need to implement cleaner and more efficient ways to generate energy from coal,” he said.

According Wonhas, the DICE technology is capable of halving carbon dioxide intensity as well as significantly reducing power costs, thus enhancing the export potential of brown and black coal, particularly to markets where concerns about the environment are increasing.

 Diagram of the fuel conversion process

Diagram of the fuel conversion process

“The energy sector has long been a lynchpin of our country’s economic prosperity and coal is expected to continue to make an important contribution in decades to come,” he said. “I believe CSIRO has a critical role to play in supporting industry to minimise the environmental impacts from coal through the application of world leading science.”

The new technology has met with a enthusiastic reaction from industry, with leading energy companies including Exergen, Ignite Energy Resources, AGL, MAN Diesel & Turbo and EnergyAustralia all lending their support to the project.

Brown Coal Innovation Australia (BCIA), which enjoys funding from the Victorian government, has allocated $1 million to a technology trial in Latrobe Valley, which is host to the world’s second largest and lowest cost brown coal resource. Trials are also scheduled to take place in Japan using the same fuel in a large-scale test engine.