Saturday, January 31, 2009

The truth begins to emerge

Ambre Energy has released an Initial Advice Statement(IAS) for their proposed Felton coal-to-liquids & CO2 project. This coincides with the publication by the EPA of the draft Terms of Reference for the so-called "Felton Clean Coal Demonstration Project". For full details, including the opportunity to comment, go to

This IAS is the 3rd from Ambre in 12 months, and is remarkable for its lack of detail. The 1st IAS (the Initial IAS), dated Feb 2008, ran to 33 pages. The 2nd, dated July 2008, has 45 pages, but the 3rd, dated December 2008, has only 16 pages.

Perhaps we should look elsewhere for the finer details. How about these snippets from (Nov 2008) -

Ambre Energy coal gasification converts 95pc of coals carbon into synthetic gas (CO + H2); but where to put the CO2?

Felton Locals were more than happy with the wider economic benefits - despite minor downsides - Jason Russell, Exploration Manager, Ambre Energy, told Gas Week.(
What planet does he live on???) Ambre Energy - which planned to list in 2009 - would make money with its planned new coal mine but it would also make dust, huge piles of coal-ash and CO2; and would crack underground water systems. Ambre planned to sell purified CO2, (as does Wesfarmers in Western Australia, from its ammonia plant). Tree-planting on ash piles: The idea was it would plant trees and keep dust down by water spraying supplemented with dust suppressant agents.

Ambre Energy’s giant coal mine plan: ship CO2 1200 kilometers to Moomba; if price of carbon gets high enough

Ambre Energy's planned giant coal mine generation were said to create units one-half to one-third of CO2 from a conventional coal fired power station. Typical sub-critical coal fired power stations generate carbon dioxide at approximately 1000kgCO2/MWh, it said. However the cost of shipping carbon to Moomba was over $20/ tonne so it was cheaper to pay the carbon permit price, Jason Russell, Exploration Manager, Ambre Energy told Gas Week.

Ambre Energy’s giant Queensland coal mine will use or destroy ground water resources in the coal seam zone of Walloon coal measure, and Hodgson Creek.

Ambre Energy’s plans for a gigantic coal mine, fuel plant and CO2 dump near Toowoomba, Queensland was frank in its report of the impact of water resources; ‘The water from these resources (is) fully allocated to the farming community, discussions will be held with DNRW as to the process required to access these resources'. Will damage groundwater: 'Initially mining will intersect ground water resources in the Walloon coal measure and although unlikely, may intersect groundwater in the alluvials of Hodgson Creek'.

Or how about this from Ambre Energy's submission to the Federal Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper -

Ironically, although coal gasification is seen as our best chance of reducing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2010 has the potential to impact adversely on the development of this technology in Australia for at least 2 reasons:

1. The Scheme adds to the already high commercial risks associated with these types of projects. The cost of purchasing carbon pollution permits comes on top of the high capital costs of coal gasification plants and the difficulty of attracting project finance because of the relative novelty of the technology.

2. While the technology for capturing pure CO2 from syngas is well advanced, the technology associated with geosequestration of CO2 requires further development. There is much confidence about the ultimate prospects for low-cost commercial geosequestration, but during this "gap", coal gasification plants will have no option but to purchase carbon pollution permits.

Mitigating the Negative Impacts of the Scheme
The simplest way to mitigate the negative impacts of the Scheme on proposed coal gasification projects would be to grant such projects an initial ‘holiday’ of a specified period of years during which time carbon pollution permits would be provided at no cost for all or most of the CO2 emissions generated by the project. This would have the effect of reducing some of the financial risks associated with the project.

Alternatively, financial assistance could be offered in other forms, for example, by way of government loans or loan guarantees for qualifying projects (compare the US Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Scheme).
Unless appropriate assistance is offered to these projects, there is a very strong possibility that coal gasification technology will not be established in Australia by commercial operators for many years, if ever.

So, it's not clean after all, and they want taxpayers to pay for their pollution.

Here's a suggestion - until geosequestration of CO2 is proven to work practically & economically, leave the coal in the ground and give Govt assistance to renewable energy, which is already proven, does not trash our environment, coexists easily with top quality food production, and would provide lots of jobs.


Siegfried said...

Yes, well you do seem to make some valid points regarding the sequestration technology however, it is worth noting that your alternatives leave a lot to be desired.

For a start, this project will bring jobs to the region. There is no avoiding this fact. Also of note is the idea that repositioning funds towards renewable energy would be a far better use of resources, however, the major problem with this is that these technologies are, for the most part, even less developed than the current clean coal systems.

It should be emphasized that globally we should be looking towards reducing carbon emission as quickly and efficiently as possible. The nature of the global economy at the moment is such that we also need to do this in the most economically sound manner possible. Long term, renewable energy such as solar, wind etc is an admirable goal however these technologies are not yet mature enough to warrant a wide spread implementation.

In the interest of erring on the side of caution it is my belief that groups such as Ambre Energy and others like them who research methods to make our current energy generation processes cleaner and more efficient in the short to medium term have a vital part to play in the wider green scheme.

All people involved in this field should be working to an ideal world, a world in which we are carbon neutral, a world in which we live sustainably and a world which we as a people do not sacrifice for our own comfort and convenience.

Unfortunately this isn't possible in the short term or even the medium term, the change would be unmanageable, inefficient and costly to the point where it may end up doing more harm than good to our society. This is why we need medium term solutions such as clean coal.

Leaping straight for the ideal is like a child who wants to leap right to desert unfortunately as much as you may dislike it, you will have to eat your greens first.

As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day; on the contrary, it took meticulous planning and a number of interim solutions. Until a comprehensive, workable plan can be developed, I believe we should welcome innovators like Ambre who have developed, and are about to implement, a solution which is a significant improvement over the most environmental solutions that were offered as recently as the late 1990's.

humblepeasant said...

Siegfried,methinks you've been brainwashed by the Ambre spin machine. Perhaps you even drive it. You say this project promises jobs, but what of the jobs in the surrounding agriculture & horticulture enterprises that would be put out of business? You say renewable energy technology is "even less developed than the current clean coal systems" What a load of tosh! Many European countries obtain large parts of their energy requirements from renewables. Australia has huge renewable energy resources which could be utilised as quickly as a solar panel or wind turbine could be set up and plugged in.What's more, renewable energy doesn't destroy farmland or wreck the environment.

Siegfried said...

Oh, I have no desire to drive a "spin machine" for one I may become very disoriented. I like to deal mostly in pragmatism.

Agriculture and horticulture need not suffer from the Ambre’s presence in the region. In addition to this the injection of hundreds of millions of dollars in the region will provide hundreds of jobs, not to mention provide expansion in ancillary sectors, particularly the hospitalities and retailers of the region.

Perhaps I should clarify my statement about the development of renewable energy. Unfortunately at this stage renewable energy systems such as photovoltaic cells and wind turbines remain highly inefficient and cost inefective. Technologies like clean coal are not the long term solution however until such a time as renewable energy generation technologies become more efficient and less costly an interim solution must be developed.

Companies like Ambre Energy are attempting to do this with clean coal and by reducing the emissions, generating alternative fuel sources like DME (which burns cleaner and is less expensive than LPG) so that countries such as Australia which uses coal to generate almost 85% of its energy are able to achieve statistically significant reductions quickly and efficiently.

The other major technology which I believe should be considered for the interim solution is nuclear power. With absolutely no carbon emissions whatsoever and massive potential for generating energy this seems like the ideal solution to the midterm problem. If managed in a responsible way nuclear energy is a perfectly safe system and even the nuclear waste generated by this process can now be made inert and stored safely.

As for Europe, They are the renewable energy leaders and indeed their accomplishments are to be applauded however it is important to maintain perspective when looking at what has been done in the EU. Europe is well on track to meeting their goal of having 20% renewable energy by 2020 but even in Germany, known for its extensive use of wind power, as of 2006 renewable energy accounted for a mere 12% of total energy output with the average for the EU topping out at a little over 14% (From If the 2020 targets are met, this still leaves 80% of energy in the EU being generated by traditional means, and this is why research must be continued into ways that we can minimise the footprint of these methods of generating power. (It is interesting to note that France provide the majority of their power with nuclear fission, if I recall correctly it is somewhere in the region of 70%).

With 80% of energy still being provided by traditional means in the most renewable regions it is self-evident that interim technologies will need to be developed. This is a simple, pragmatic view of how to approach the future of energy production.

Realistically we need to replace, particularly the older power generators being used in this state however renewable technologies are not yet ready for wide spread implementation. It is simply not practical to become renewable overnight. So while these technologies are being further researched it is necessary to implement an interim solution, whether it be the cleaner more efficient coal generators, a standard light-water fission reactor or even the less common breeder reactors which can use almost all of the initial fissionable material resulting in far less waste than a traditional light-water system. None of these technologies are renewable however all of them have the capacity to minimise the environmental footprint of our modern lifestyle.

humblepeasant said...

Siegfried,pragmatism? no. Waffle? yes. Ambre have a plan to capture CO2 from their petrochemical plant, but no plan to store it. It is therefore NOT a "clean coal" project, nor is it "green coal", "smart coal", "cuddly coal" or anything else other than dirty black coal. Nuclear power? All I know is that it produces toxic waste and uses huge quantities of water - so it has some things in common with Ambre's Felton scheme.
You quote 3 year old figures on European renewable energy production, I'd say quite a few solar panels & wind turbines have been built since. While we get cracking on this here, creating heaps of jobs, and preserving our farmland and taking care of our environment, the obvious interim source of power is not nuclear or dirty black coal, but coal seam gas, of which Queensland seems to have rather a lot.