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Government's dilemma: What can we do with all of this coal?

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The Federal Budget unveiled plans to diversify Australia’s mining exports. Turns out, that includes diversifying the use of coal and other “high emissions resources”.

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In May, Resources Minister Keith Pitt announced a $20 million Global Resources Strategy to safeguard Australian exports and provide new opportunities for the mining sector.

Pitt, a central Queensland MP who has consistently argued that coal has a future, said the strategy would “also support new investment in research and commercialisation of alternative uses for some of our commodities, and provide greater international focus for our world-leading and innovative mining engineering, technology and services sector”.

His department has now asked consultants to specifically look at coal, and examine demand for “research, development and commercialisation of alternative uses for high-emissions resources” that go beyond traditional base-load electricity generation.

With a six-month turnaround, the work will likely be undertaken during the federal election campaign, and amid an ongoing debate over Australia’s commitment to global efforts to respond to climate change.

As an example of possible alternative uses for coal, the department has pointed to the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain pilot project, which, using Carbon Capture and Storage, would theoretically convert brown coal into low emissions energy.

The department expects there to be other options too, and wants consultants to identify “all current and recent research” into alternative uses of coal, the different projects being developed around the world, their location and funding sources, and what would be needed to turn the ideas into reality.

“We are seeking a solution that informs the Department of commercially viable, alternative uses of coal,” the department states in tender documents.

“A consultant is required to provide market analysis and commercialisation assessment on the current state of research being commissioned into the alternative uses of coal.”

The documents flag the willingness of government to support such projects if they provide a long-term use for Australian coal.

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