Fact-checking the claim that Australian coal is clean

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Australian thermal coal is higher in energy content, true, but its ash content is double Indonesia’s export-coal average.

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IEEFA

iStock_000006955362_Medium-382x300We’re seeing an increasing number of boastful assertions by Australian politicians that Australian coal is environmentally friendlier than other coal.

It’s not true—and we’ve published a fact sheet here that gets into the weeds of it—but one illuminating comparison can be found when you stack Australian benchmark thermal coal up next to coal from Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal. Australian thermal coal is higher in energy content, true, but its ash content is double Indonesia’s export-coal average.

Further to this point, Australia has historically developed its best coal resources first, such that the average quality of coal from new mines being proposed is declining with time. As a result, the Australian benchmark for coal is gradually giving way to a lower-quality, secondary benchmark, one that produces 10 percent less energy and almost twice the ash.

Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine, which would purportedly supply India, would produce coal only about 10 percent better than the average quality of domestic Indian thermal coal in terms of energy content. This comparison doesn’t take into consideration the environmental costs of transporting Australian coal to Indian ports. And Carmichael coal if compared to Russian, Indonesian or South African export coal is relatively “low energy, high ash.”

For countries truly seeking to limit the harmful effects of coal-fired power generation pollution, tighter emissions limits are key, a truth that is being embraced by nations as disparate as the U.S. and China.


China has required all coal-fired power plants to be retrofitted with emissions reduction technologies over the past four years. The U.S. EPA this year established expanded new rules on coal-plant emissions.

Australia has studiously avoided similar initiatives—damaging its global standing and putting its own long-term economic health at risk. The fact is, Australia has the most emissions-intensive coal-fired power generation fleet in the world, worse even than India’s, and it’s nothing to brag about.

Tim Buckley is IEEFA’s director of energy finance studies, Australasia.

Source: IEEFA. Reproduced with permission.

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6 Comments
  1. juxx0r 4 years ago

    Can’t these people get to the important bit? Why are we too busy pontificating about carbon and now mostly silicon in the ash to talk about the real issue with coal? The real issue with coal is not the mostly silicon that you scrape out the bottom of the fire box, but the lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, selenium, thallium, phosphorous, sulphur, chlorine and other compounds that come out the chimney.

    How can we continue to pretend that we give a shit about the planet if we can’t even talk about what we are doing to it?

  2. John Saint-Smith 4 years ago

    It is so reassuring to know that we still have Ministers in the Turnbull Cabinet who are still prepared to tell Australians that “Coal is good for humanity”. And this is the policy that Turnbull is taking to Paris?

  3. Robert Comerford 4 years ago

    ‘clean’ and ‘coal’ are antonyms

    • OnionMan77 4 years ago

      We clean the coal by burning it.

  4. Glenn Albrecht 4 years ago

    And the carbon dioxide produced?

  5. Glenn Albrecht 4 years ago

    I might be off track here (I am a philosopher) but given climate change is the big issue, the pollution that is relevant here is carbon dioxide. Black coal has a higher carbon content than brown coal and when, in the combustion process, individual carbon atoms combine with two oxygen atoms we get more than a doubling of the weight of the by product of carbon dioxide produced from a given weight of black coal. The same weight of brown coal will have less carbon in it and hence less carbon dioxide when burnt. The calculation would then have to work out how much carbon dioxide is produced to generate a set amount of heat from black and brown coal. The fact check should then be able to report on the oxymoron of clean coal.

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