The climate-denying government of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pulled the plug on a six-year, A$90-million-dollar experiment with “clean” coal, reluctantly acknowledging the failure of the last in a series of highly-touted demonstration projects.
“Treasurer Tim Pallas’ department issued a statement announcing the conclusion of the joint federal and state Advanced Lignite Demonstration Program (ALDP) after the collapse of the program’s remaining scheme—a plan to turn Gippsland coal into char and oil by a company called Coal Energy Australia,” the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
“Pallas refused to answer questions, instead leaving his department to handle media requests. Two other projects supported under the program had already failed.”
The Gippsland project never received any government money, the Herald states, “as it did not succeed in turning brown coal into clean fuel. It is not clear how much of that money has gone to any project.” In Coal Energy Australia’s latest financial statements, auditors expressed “significant doubt” the financially-stressed company could continue as a “going concern”.
Just days earlier, the federal government and the state of Victoria announced another $100-million bid to support the resource-intensive economy of the Latrobe Valley. The latest scheme, a $500-million coal-to-hydrogen project backed by investors from Japan, “is the latest grand plan seeking alternative uses for the brown coal which has powered the Victorian economy for decades, but is much maligned in an era when slashing emissions is government policy,” the Herald notes.
RenewEconomy reports the coal-to-hydrogen venture will cost the federal and state governments $50 million each. If it’s successful, it’ll process up to 160 tonnes of brown coal to produce three tonnes of hydrogen.
“Yes, that’s right: $500 million to build a pilot plant that will operate for just 12 months and produce a grand total ‘up to’ three tonnes of hydrogen over the whole year,” writes editor Gilles Parkinson. “I had to read that 10 times and get on the phone twice to check.”
The project may be a world first “because it is hard to imagine another country that would think of turning brown coal into hydrogen, and at such an outrageous cost—least of all one with such rich wind and solar resources, and which already has some cheaper renewables-fuelled hydrogen projects of its own,” he adds.
“But this is Australia.”