Coalition promises coal innovation

Bryce Eishold

A carbon innovation institute will be created in the Latrobe Valley under a plan by the Coalition to identify future uses of brown coal if it is elected on November 24.

The jointly-funded project with Federation University would look at ways the resource could be used to supply key carbon products on the manufacturing line, both locally and overseas.

Federation University Gippsland Associate Professor Vince Verheyen, who has lived in the Latrobe Valley for 37 years, said the institute would look at ways of forming a demonstration plant to carry out the work.

“People think of dirty black coal and what we’ve got here is something that’s much younger and far more chemically reactive so we can make products you can’t make with other coals,” Mr Verheyen said.

“We want to treat coal as a mineral, not as a fuel. With this centre, we’re looking at [value-add] products. There’s far more jobs in manufacturing – things like what we’ve got here with OMNIA and things that are good for the planet and environment.”

Opposition spokesman for innovation David Southwick said the Coalition would commit $2 million for the project over four years with Federation University to provide $5 million in support in the form of infrastructure, equipment and expertise.

An example of an alternate use of carbon is the production of humic acid – which Morwell-based business OMNIA does – where brown coal is utilised to create fertilisers from carbon for export on a domestic and international level.

“The Latrobe Valley has been home to a very valuable resource that has powered our state – we will not, as a Liberal-Nationals government, turn our back on that,” Mr Southwick said.

Mr Verheyen said while a site for the proposed institute was yet to be chosen, a feasibility study was underway to determine the best location which could be located across a “multi-campus” set up.

“We need to set up a plant which will provide quality samples of coal so that we can actually, at meaningful scales, supply developers of technology the coals they need, dry or crushed and to help them refine their process,” Mr Verheyen said.

“We can make things that are involved with electric cars for arguments sake; the special carob products that go into those batteries and things can be actually developed from low-rank coals like ours.

Morwell business OMNIA will also take part in the project and provide manufacturing support should the proposal go ahead.