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Australia's vanishing clean coal opportunity

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If we are to defend and improve our competitive standing as a first-tier global economy, Australia needs to invest heavily in the development of knowledge economy sectors such as clean coal technology rather than pouring million of dollars into dying legacy sectors.

The Australian Federal Government has just launched its Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (GCCSI), which has been supported by governments and corporations around the world. The GCCSI has the aim of funding and enabling industrial scale carbon capture and storage demonstration projects around the world. Such projects are urgently needed as coal is a key source of worldwide energy. Coal is used to generate 41 percent of global electricity and 76 percent of Australian electricity. Despite the best efforts of innovators in alternative energy sources such as solar, these proportions are unlikely to reduce in the near to medium future.

Excessive production of greenhouse gases is a global problem that needs global solutions. But this is more than an opportunity to help save the world from the perils of global warming. This is also an opportunity to develop a world-class industry in Australia, building on our world-leading skills in mining and mineral processing and complementing our leading position in coal exports.

A recent report by patent and trade mark firm Griffith Hack raises a number of concerns. This report uses recent Australian clean coal patents to suggest that Australia is failing to excel in its effort to progress from the world’s leading exporter of coal to a world leader in clean coal technology. Furthermore, there are comparatively few patents being filed by Australian or international companies in carbon capture and storage. Yet we know that patents are a good predictor of innovative activity as they help protect these innovations. Toyota filed over 2,000 patents worldwide to protect its Prius hybrid engine technology.

Is carbon capture and storage little more than a lot of hot air? For the sake of the planet and Australia’s economic future, we certainly hope not.

Read Mike Lloyd and Justin Blows’ report on an opportunity that needs to be seized both for Australia and for the world. http://cleanip.com.au/2009/04/06/clean-coal-technologies-where-does-australia-stand/

Photo: Señor Codo (Flickr)

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