19 December 1997

The University of Queensland is playing a key role in the success of one of the State's major export industries, according to Mines and Energy Minister Tom Gilmore.

His comments came at the official opening of a $1.7 million extension of the Chemical Engineering Department building which houses a new coal research facility.

Mr Gilmore said the new unit was necessary to help maintain Queensland's position as the world's leading seaborne coal exporting province.

'In 1996-97 our coal exports totalled a record 78.9 million tonnes worth a record $4.5 billion. This included 24.2 million tonnes of thermal coal valued at $1.1 billion,' the minister said.

Addressing a gathering of about 50 people, mostly academics connected with the Department, Mr Gilmore said this was a significant occasion for the University.

'This $1.7 million extension houses the activities of two very important research groups - the Black Coal Utilisation Unit and the Materials Characterisation and Processing Centre,' he said.

Work at the black coal unit is complementing research elsewhere in Australia and overseas on methods of improving efficiency in coal use and reducing coal combustion emissions.

Researchers are studying ways of cutting down harmful byproducts - carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, dust particles and other pollutants - during the burning of black coal.

'Specific projects include the performance of blended coals, flame stability and ash disposal,' Mr Gilmore said.

'Increasing pressure for implementation of clean coal technologies means it is all the more important to investigate improved utilisation efficiencies and environmental performance of our coals.

'Of course, Queensland thermal coal is already regarded as being among the cleanest, if not the cleanest, in the world, with low sulphur levels and practically zero trace metal.'

Mr Gilmore said the Queensland Government, through the Department of Mines and Energy, was very pleased to have allocated $400,000 towards the project over the initial three years.

'There is also the likelihood of additional funding from Q Therm,' he said, referring to his Department's coal promotion unit.

Mr Gilmore said the Materials Characterisation and Processing Centre, which shared the new extension, had the potential to pay 'invaluable environmental dividends'.

'Its researchers are currently studying various characteristics of plastics and other materials, with a key focus being the biodegradable properties of plastics,' he said.

Work being carried out at the University was helping provide the technology and services which the food and packaging industries used to create and develop new markets.

Mr Gilmore said the Materials Characterisation and Processing Centre housed more than $1.5 million worth of equipment. 'As a result, it is one of the best in the world for measuring and simulating the characterisation and processing properties of materials.'