2 December 1997

We can all breathe a little bit easier, thanks to researchers at the University of Queensland's Chemical Engineering Department.

They are studying ways of cutting down on the harmful byproducts produced during the burning of black coal.

Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, dust particles and other pollutants is helping to create a cleaner and more healthy environment.

At the same time, exploring efficiencies in the conversion of coal into energy can translate into potential savings of billions of dollars for the Australian coal industry.

The research is based in a $1.75 million extension to the Chemical Engineering Department to be opened officially on December 9 by the Queensland State Minister for Mines and Energy, the Honourable Mr Tom Gilmore.

Mr Gilmore's department is providing $400,000 over three years to help fund the investigation into more effective ways of using black coal.

Associate Professor Victor Rudolph, head of the Chemical Engineering Department, said burning coal produced a variety of environmentally harmful gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which were associated with acid rain.

Burning coal also released dust particles containing a range of toxic trace elements and other chemicals besides being a major source of the so-called 'greenhouse gas' carbon dioxide.

Dr Rudolph said his Department staff were studying ways of reducing or mitigating problem emissions, for example, by treating the coal before burning or during the combustion process.

This might mean exports of Queensland coal eventually could be tailored to meet the combustion equipment and conditions of specific overseas customers.

'Australia exports $11billion worth of black coal annually while black coal also fuels the $6 billion a year electricity industry in Queensland and New South Wales,' Dr Rudolph said.

'Present systems convert roughly 37 percent of coal's energy into electricity. However, the new techniques being investigated at the St Lucia campus have the potential to increase that conversion efficiency to between 40 and 50 percent.

'The difference may not sound great but a one percent improvement in efficiency could lead to worldwide savings of billions of dollars as well as a healthier planet.'

Around 20 people - from professors to undergraduates - are working on the black coal project with access to an estimated million dollars worth of equipment in the new extension.

They share the facility with another team whose work on food packaging also has the potential to pay huge environmental dividends. These researchers are studying various characteristics of plastics and other materials with a key focus being the biodegradable properties of plastics.

For more information, contact Dr Victor Rudolph (telephone 3365 3616).