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Editorial comment

When discussing the coal industry I often refer to the ‘coal chain’, which in my view symbolises the vital links between different sectors of the industry that ensure coal makes it from the mine to the end user. As the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rises on the agenda of the coal industry, the final link in the chain to the end user is becoming more complicated.


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When discussing the coal industry I often refer to the ‘coal chain’, which in my view symbolises the vital links between different sectors of the industry that ensure coal makes it from the mine to the end user. As the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rises on the agenda of the coal industry, the final link in the chain to the end user is becoming more complicated.

After some setbacks, it looks like carbon capture and storage (CCS) is back on the cards. FutureGen is back in favour, as the US Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, announced an agreement with the alliance to advance the project last month. There also seems to be renewed support for CCS demonstration plants across Europe. The UK, for example, has recently launched a public consultation on CCS. The coal chain is getting longer, as coal-fired power plants will be expected to capture as much as 90% of their carbon and other GHG emissions in order to continue operating. What the industry needs to know is how to put the right links in place in order to avoid a breakdown in the chain.

There has been a lot of talk about storing carbon underground, in depleted oilfields for example, but so far there has been little evidence of how such a venture could, or would, be undertaken. The Australian Government seems to be paving the way forward, announcing its ‘Carbon Capture and Storage Acreage Release’ legislation in March of this year. The legislation offers for exploration commercial offshore sites that can be used for storing gas in geological formations. Assessment permits will be available for ten offshore sites in five basins. These permits will allow the holder to explore the area in question for potential as a site for storing gas underground. The necessary regulations to support the legislation are expected to be finalised in Q3 of 2009. This seems to represent a practical step in the right direction for the implementation of CCS, giving power plant operators a clearer idea of how this process can be made possible.

As CCS looks more of a certainty for the coal industry, a framework for implementation becomes more of a necessity. More practical opportunities and guidelines need to be made available. Saying and doing are, after all, two very different things; Governments need to prove that they are not all talk when it comes to CCS. Fundamentally, if the end user is threatened, the whole coal chain is threatened, and that is something that neither the industry, nor electricity-consuming nations, can afford to risk.