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Low emission coal technologies

What are low emissions coal technologies?

Low emissions coal technologies increase the energy efficiency of industrial processed reliant on coal.. These technologies aim to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), and mitigate environmental impacts associated with anthropogenic climate change. Substantial reductions in CO2 emissions from point source emitters of CO2 are also achievable through the capture of CO2, before or after energy is extracted. The CO2 can then be safely stored in a secure and permanent manner. This is a process known as Carbon Capture and Storage.

What is carbon capture and storage?

The most commonly discussed low emissions coal technology is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). It is an important option for reducing CO2 emissions across the state over the next 40 years, particularly for the NSW Government aspirational target of zero-net emissions by 2050.

CCS is the process whereby CO2 emissions are captured from large industrial processes – such as electricity generation, and cement and steel production – and transported through pipelines for permanent storage in deep, secure underground geological formations. This process stops those emissions from entering the atmosphere.

CCS will enable NSW to manage coal resources in a sustainable manner and will enable coal to continue to contribute to the NSW economy in a carbon-constrained world. By reducing emissions from industry, CCS could also underpin the transition to low-carbon electricity generation.

Why do we need these technologies?

Coal mining is one of the most significant contributors to the NSW economy. Coal is a key component in the manufacture of steel and cement and also provides approximately 80% of NSW's electricity production. Coal-fired electricity generation provides affordable power and underpins a reliable and secure electricity grid, thereby contributing to the State’s productivity, comparative advantage and prosperity.

Although coal provides most of the energy required to power our industries and homes, burning coal to produce electricity is a carbon-intensive energy option and emits a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2015 NSW's coal-fired power stations emitted approximately 46 million tonnes of CO2 or just over one-third of NSW’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In the same year approximately 15 million tonnes of CO2 was emitted from coal mining as fugitive emissions. This together represents 45 per cent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions1.

In December 2015, 195 countries (including Australia) signed the Paris Agreement (the Agreement) to limit worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise (this century) below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.’2 The Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016 and requires all Parties to reach their maximum potential through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). Under an Agreement applicable to all, Australia will implement an economy-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 20304.

To complement the Commonwealth Government’s 2030 emission reduction targets, the NSW Government has announced an aspirational transitional target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this target by 2050 will require a significant reduction in the emissions caused by the energy sector, particularly from coal combustion for electricity generation and industrial processes.

CCS technologies provide a significant option to reduce the environmental impact of using coal as a source of electricity, and in manufacturing, by cost effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions whilst maintaining energy reliability, security and affordability.

The International Energy Agency5 has modelled that to reach net-zero emissions, low emissions coal technologies such as CCS must be utilised.

Carbon Capture and Storage in Australia

There are several CCS demonstration projects underway and also some major commercial CCS projects proposed for Australia.

For more information, visit the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

The NSW Government is providing financial research support through competitive grants programs and is also partnering with organisations and companies including:

  • Centennial Coal
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
  • Newcastle Institute of Energy and Resources (NIER)
  • CO2CRC Limited
  • Mineral Carbonation International
  • University of Newcastle
  • University of NSW
  • University of Technology Sydney

You can find out more about projects and initiatives in Australia below:

1 Department of Environment and Energy, Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System, 2017, viewed on 22 December 2017,

3 Ibid