John Hewson pushes "trillion dollar" opportunity in "refined" coal | RenewEconomy

John Hewson pushes “trillion dollar” opportunity in “refined” coal

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Coal-fired cars? Climate campaigner John Hewson promotes discarded technology that his business partners say could turn coal into a “universal fuel” and ensure long-term survival of coal industry – in Latrobe Valley and elsewhere. Environmental campaigners are horrified.

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Former Liberal Party leader and climate campaigner John Hewson has produced another shock to environmental activists, promoting a decades-old and never used coal technology that he says could extend the life of the vast brown coal resources in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Hewson and his business partners say they have perfected a system that “refines” coal and turns it into granules that can then be used in power generation, as a replacement for diesel and gas, in transport, and in space heating. The potential market, they say, is in the “trillions” of dollars.

Furthermore, they say it could mean that thousands of coal mines and coal generators around the world will not need to close, despite the global mandate to cut emissions to meet climate change targets.

The technology was promoted by Hewson in a recent presentation in the Latrobe Valley at a $45-a-head dinner in Traralgon, ostensibly called to look at the transition possibilities for a region dependent on brown coal generation.

According to the Voices of the Valley public group, Hewson had been expected to talk about the future beyond coal, but instead gave a sales pitch for a new technology that could exploit the Latrobe Valley’s vast coal resources.

“Tonight’s presentation was a new version of the ‘coal is good, we must use it, clean coal’ mantra that we’ve been listening to for such a long time,” one of the group’s convenors said in a Facebook post.

Another attendee said Hewson claimed his technology could keep the valley’s brown coal reserves – which amount to billions of tonnes – operating for decades to come.  “You’ve got a marvellous resource here, you’ve got to use it,” Hewson told the audience.

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One attendee, Environment Victoria’s Cat Nadel, tweeted her frustration (see above), and followed it up with other comments:

“The Latrobe Valley needs a real just transition. It is more than a quarry and its community deserves better,” she tweeted. And then: “Hewson wants to ‘take the sting out of change’ and take the ‘nasties out of brown coal.’ So disappointing and far from reality.”

The fuel Hewson is promoting is called “corethane.” A video posted by one of Hewson’s business associates, Phil Hall,  claims the process uses highly toxic hydrofluoric acid to remove air pollutants, burns as “cleanly” as gas and will elevate coal to equal status with oil and gas as a “universal fuel”. It dubs it the “last of the fossil fuels.”

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It says corethane would cost 70 per cent less than diesel, 20 per cent less than gas, 90 per cent less than LNG, could produce electricity at just $60/MWh, and has more even distribution around the world than oil.

Best, it suggests – accompanied by the soaring theme music to the film “The Martian” – it can help avoid the closure of coal mines and generators around the world, and ensure the “long-term survival” of the coal industry.
hewson coal miner

It is not the first time that Hewson and his business partners have courted controversy in recent months. In Adelaide in May, Hewson promoted a new solar tower and storage technology using graphite, and developed by a company he now chairs, Solastor Australia.

However, he upset many in the industry by attacking the molten salt technologies that are being rolled out across the world, and which are promoting competing projects in Port Augusta in South Australia. He described those technologies as redundant and made claims against them that were demonstrably not true.

“Some of the information apparently quoted at the Solastor launch seems to ignore recent data and experience,” said Andrew Want, the head of the Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association. “This is unfortunate, as it has made what should have been a welcome announcement for CST in Australia needlessly, and unhelpfully, contentious.”

Hewson now appears to have embraced another technology that no one else is touching. Momentum Refining, apparently a sister company to Momentum Energy and Resources, which is a joint owner in Solastor Australia, is promoting the corethane technology, although it recognises that no one else has been able to find a commercial application.

(The author of the video, Phil Hall, is a director of Solastor Australia. Hewson is the executive chairman)

Refined coal, it notes in the Vimeo presentation, was trialled by the US Department of Defence in the 1980s, and can – at least in theory – be used in internal combustion engines, both heavy vehicles, ships, military vehicles, and in “cars, vans, trucks, boats, planes and motorbikes.” It suggests that the opportunities in transport are significant.

The Vimeo clip highlights the trials of “coal-fired” cars, claiming that two General Motors Eldorados were fitted with the technology, and that “the use of refined coal as a transport fuel was proven.”

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This article, however, mentions only one Eldorado fitted with a coal-fired engine (see picture above). Apparently it was the last one off the production line and no one is really sure what happened to it. It certainly wasn’t a hit.

Retired GM engineer John Schult described the system to the NY Times in 2009:

“To keep the coal dust ready for delivery to the engine, it had to be continuously agitated. Then a small conveyor belt delivered the coal to the gasifier, the first section of G.M.’s automotive turbine engine. When you stepped on the gas pedal, it actually moved a potentiometer that varied the speed of the coal conveyor belt. More fuel resulted in more power.”

For lots of reasons, the technology didn’t take off. And it’s hard to imagine it would in an era of electric cars and Tesla vehicles that can deliver a range of 600km or more and the fastest acceleration of any production car.

The Vimeo also claims that coal refineries can be built as modules and combined to create coal refining complexes of “virtually any size or scale”. And while it admits that there are no such coal refineries anywhere in the world, it claims it has the “only known, proven and tested coal refining process”.

Indeed, the video sees a market for 10,000 coal refineries, worth $3 trillion in coal refining alone, and a further $1.6 trillion market in corethane sales. These numbers do not include the value of the transport and diesel markets.

Environmental activists said they were shocked that Hewson – known to environmentalists as strong proponent for decisive climate action – should be promoting technology that could extend the life of the valley’s vast coal mines.

They say that these coal mines have serious environmental issues even before the coal gets shovelled into highly polluting coal generators – issues such as dust and bushfire risk.

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It got an immediate response on Twitter, which prompted Hewson to tell the audience that “there must be greenies in the room.” His proposal was compared to a similar push by John White, of Ignite Energy, to export brown coal. That proposal received the support of the then state Coalition government and the Abbott government.

There was concern that the proposal was getting support from some business groups in the area, and some conservative members of the local council. One attendee wrote in a blog headlined “climate con” that: “His story was disturbing and deceiving”.

The blog also raised questions about the large-scale use of hydrofluoric acid in the region.

“What is most intriguing of all, according to Hewson and the video, this technology has been tested and proved in pilot studies by the US since the late 70s, again in the 80s and 90s yet no one has picked it up as a viable option and developed it over the next 30 years. We ask WHY?”

Another attendee, Dan Caffrey, of the Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group, said: “I represent a group of very disappointed people. It felt like we were being mugged by the Messiah.”

Update: The video posted on the vimeo website by Phil Hall has been removed since the publication of this article. We have also update article to clarify that acid being used is hydrofluoric, not hydrochloric as wrote. Hydrofluoric acid is an acute poison, which you can read about here).


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  1. Tim Forcey 3 years ago

    Aspects of this also goes by the name of Direct Injection Combustion Engine (DICE):

    The current “low” oil and gas prices globally make it more challenging for these coal proposals to find support.

    Also, the expanding acceptance of the need for urgent climate action makes it more challenging for greenhouse-gas-emitting proposals to find support.

    • DogzOwn 3 years ago

      ABC Background Briefing did an in depth on DICE, even thumping audio of CSIRO evaluation, 4.3 single cylinder engine, parked in a shed since 1970’s. Injecting coal/water slurry into diesel engine was a big deal as long ago as Third Reich Germany. Too much maintenance clogged injectors. Stupid enough to be big enough for Greg Hunt.

      Here’s hoping rear guard action by oil companies, keeping price artificially low, is something that even Exxon can’t afford for much longer

  2. Ken Fabian 3 years ago

    I had thought Mr Hewson, despite his politician’s fact free style attacks upon thermal storage competitors, at least accepted the seriousness of the climate problem. This sounds more like something someone with coal investments who outright denies it’s seriousness might propose.

    If there is one thing we do need it’s more people on the Right of politics treating the climate problem seriously. Mr Turnbull, who has made some of the right noises in the past has become Mr Turntail on the issue and I can’t think of one other LNP figure that has ever done more than tap dance around it – whilst plenty remain who essentially agree with One Nation’s Mr Roberts. Not one LNP member appears to be willing to stick their neck out on the most significant danger to Australia’s continuing economic prosperity.

  3. Craig Allen 3 years ago

    That is insane. They’d have to have tankers delivering this stuff to refueling stations. Which presumably would need to have special tanks and bowsers from which cars would be filled. Spills will happen. Sounds like nasty stuff to have blowing around. And what is left after it is burned in an engine – some kind of super fine toxic coal ash presumably. What is going to be done with that? Spit it out the exhaust, or save it to be returned to the fuel station in the hope that they dispose of it responsibly? Surely this is some kind of hoax.

    • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

      yep, Black carbon is a very significant GHG. Lands on the three poles and absorbs solar energy thereby melting glaciers and raising the temperature.

    • JohnRD 3 years ago

      The proposals I have seen for producing ultra clean coal involve leaching out the ash. Necessary if the coal is to be used as a diesel replacement.

  4. Jeff Wehl 3 years ago

    Well thats the end of Hewson’s reputation.

  5. Nick Pyner 3 years ago

    I guess it’s no surprise that this clown turns up as a patsy for the venture capital sharks. He should have stuck to explaining birthday cakes.

  6. DevMac 3 years ago

    He is still a Liberal after all. Wave a couple of dollars under his nose and any previous opinions disappear like a magician’s assistant.

    Closing the coal mines is the point. Not something to be avoided.

    • Geoff 3 years ago

      exactly. he is just pushing the technology of his businesses using he’s so called green credentials to do it. which we all know is shot to pieces now…

  7. howardpatr 3 years ago

    Seems Hewson is desperate to recoup some personal investments.

    John Hewson who not long ago was using his connections to push Solastor by bagging other companies working in the same space.

    I never saw any reasoned response from Hewson about his last outburst? He just objected with vitriol because his position re Solastor was called into question.

    See the link:-

    • Ron Ipsen 3 years ago

      yeah, that link is what i thought he would be presenting. That and the economics of a transition. Not to worry

    • Andrew Thaler 3 years ago

      An allegation once put and unchallenged remains affirmed.

  8. Carl Raymond S 3 years ago

    “will elevate coal to equal status with oil and gas”… these guys need to read more. None has status – and Hewson for whatever reason has decided to join the club. Hero to zero in 2.5 seconds.

  9. JohnOz 3 years ago

    OMG Hewson has joined Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd in the climate looney bin.

    Get used to it the combustion of fossil fuels MUST CEASE – and very soon.

  10. Alex Rogers 3 years ago

    This makes me seriously doubt the Solastor viability too

    • Andrew Thaler 3 years ago

      The Lake Cargelligo system is not operational. They abandoned it.

  11. John Philip Cadwallader 3 years ago

    More like Messiah’d by the MUG! O:)

  12. Barri Mundee 3 years ago

    I live in the Latrobe Valley’s brown coal region and worked in the power industry for all of my working life. I would like to see the region transition to a sustainable future and to phase out the dirty brown coal stations over time. The region is job poor though and the privatisation of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria resulted in economic and social devastation.

    The region has recovered somewhat but unemployment, with its attendant social ills, is still a huge problem. There have been regular announcements by so called entrepreneurs such as Hewson to do something other than burning wet, low quality but abundant brown coal but all of these have turned out to be disappointments.

    Brown coal was going to be used to make urea as a feedstock for fertilizers but this has come to nothing. I suspect most of these proposals were vehicles for attracting Federal/State funding that would pay the execs and then lead nowhere.

  13. Miles Harding 3 years ago

    He’s having his “Bjelke-Petersen” moment.

    Back in 1980, Sir Joh was taken in by one of the water gas (petrol) scams. It would seem that John is on the same track.
    Speaking of tracks, isn’t this where we used to burn tons of the stuff?

    Imagine the pollution from roads full of coal powder burners. If the particulates don’t get us, then the CO2 will … eventually.
    Couldn’t they have suggested Fischer-Tropsch, as the Germans used when they got desperate in WWII?

    If there is a silver lining, it’s that this may be some recognition that oil and liquid fuels are not going to be in plentiful supply at a price we can afford for very much longer. The shame is that he’s on the low road.

  14. Ron Ipsen 3 years ago

    Hydroflouric acid is the chemical of concern they were proposing, not hydrochloric. HCL is no problem really, but 1000 tons per module of HF (hydroflouric acid), one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man is certainly a concern. Youtube or google it and you will see why.
    The LV Community has set up a technology review board to examine the commercial, industrial and h&s ramifications of this and other technologies that are being presented to us.
    Yep, the presentation was a bit of a shock, I thought the talk would have been about transition itself, perhaps energy storage technologies that the company had, but it ended up being almost a sales pitch for clean coal. And yes it is clean coal, you wash the coal b4 you burn it, that’s cleaning the coal by definition. Anyway, the community took it on the chin and will have a look at the corethane proposal. As background it helps to remember that we have just come out of the countries largest industrial spill (Hazelwood Minefire) and are a bit wary of materials and processes if carelessly or negligently managed by non resident corporations.

    • Farmer Dave 3 years ago

      Hi Ron, yes HF is really nasty stuff. I feel for the Latrobe Valley’s predicament, and it would have been very disheartening to have gone to Hewson’s presentation full of hope only to be served up such obvious tosh.

      Alas, I don’t think there will be a “next big thing” to replace the Valley’s current dependence on brown coal; rather lots of small things, each using local renewable resources, improving local resilience and reducing economic leakage. I’m glad to hear there are efforts being made to find a transition away from brown coal.

  15. Radbug 3 years ago

    A lot of people connected with coal are hoping for a saviour … and Hewson is hoping to relieve them of their money! Get a grip – Hewson’s mining the market. Corethane is a blue sky job … run away, trendsetters! You want a viable start up? How about the Nikola locomotive, using Direct Methanol Fuel Cells and powered up to cruising speed by a molten salt/PV array powered third rail?

  16. MaxG 3 years ago

    Straight to the loony bin — what an idiot!

  17. Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

    Would these cars need a stoker who shovels coal into the engine furnace?

    • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

      Yes, that be the lucky passengers … they might also need robot navigators to free up their time. And a change of clothes when they finally get to the Office.

      • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

        The stakes will be higher in traffic light drag races – the loser gets black lung disease along with their wounded pride.

  18. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    It’s unfortunate, but this idea is a Clanger ! Now I wonder … how I can make money on two flies walking on that wall ?

  19. Mike Shurtleff 3 years ago

    This is all missing three major points: cost, cost, and cost.
    $60/MWh is more than twice the average cost of Wind generation in the USA now.
    It is more than the cost of utility scale Solar PV now.
    Cost of Wind and Solar PV are still falling and very low cost battery storage is coming to the market soon.
    SolidEnergy now claiming they have achieved 400 Wh/kg, 1,200 Wh/Liter.
    Ambri’s LMB is far from dead. They have developed a new separator and they will be in production in 2017. Very low cost battery with very high cycle life.
    Tesla Powerwall will drop in price. LGChem will be competing for this market. …and many others.

    Burn in cars? The Tesla model 3 is already cost competitive and that’s just the start. What will you have to sell this coal powder for, so you can pay for the delivery infrastructure? How long will it take to build out this infrastructure? There is no way this can compete. This is a desperate plan coming from a dying industry …the desperate grasping of a drowning man.

    This might as well be an April Fool’s joke.

    • Daniel 3 years ago

      I think the power for leadership is families studying or working at home, or the retired, who could install PV cheaply because it is so cheap, and install their smallish first battery. They are best placed to economically self consume their own power during the daytime and reduce their evening peak usage. They could most easily load shift their electricity use to the solar day. They should lead the community. Those who own their work premises could do likewise. As a community we need ways forward now not merely project future system component costs into the future. We need an evolving community knowledge base founded on experience of leaders.

  20. Guest 3 years ago

    Is it a joke? Thorium-powered cars are the future, me boy!

    • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

      And a two-year thyroid warranty with each thorium powered vehicle!

      • Guest 3 years ago


  21. Daniel 3 years ago

    Has it ever been clearer, that a certain elite in society with shares in big business, will fight to the end to extract wealth out of the earth and make money out of humanities basic needs to boil a kettle or cook a meal…

  22. solarguy 3 years ago

    Looks like where there is a buck, there will be scammers like Hewson. The THC content of the stuff he and Malcolm Roberts are smoking is obviously north of 50% What a goose!

    • Daniel 3 years ago

      More than just strategy oriented intellects, a narcissistic hunger for materialistic accomplishment, matched only by rage and a buried inner sense of impoverished self esteem if their status and sense of entitlement isn’t maintained by institualized hegemony. Such people feel no genuine relationship or feeling for the families of others nor a connection with nature. It’s a developmental problem written about in the social sciences and psychology. Not appreciating how hard it is for the plight of these narcissistic individuals, leads many of us to attempt rational discussion with them which is futile. They have to fall over before recovering.

    • Daniel 3 years ago

      Have you got inverter/chargers capable of loadshifting customers electricity use during the solar day? How costly is it to implement? Even though I think you were in NSW, the article about demand charges by Ronald Brakels seemed to indicate it’s beginning to be rolled out in the residential sector. Have you got a plan? Can it be done with a smallish inexpensive battery?

  23. Dave Keenan 3 years ago

    My goodness. Is it the first of April already?

  24. cabidas 3 years ago

    I can’t speak for the technology specifically. But on the face of it if you asked me if we were to have CSG, or turning open pit coal into gas, I’d rather the latter. But that of course is oversimplifying everything.

  25. Martin Male 3 years ago

    There is one word for this ludicrous!

    • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

      Ludicrous Mode on these cars will enable 0 to 60 MPH in 2.5 sandwiches and a cup of tea.

      • Andrew Thaler 3 years ago


  26. Robert Comerford 3 years ago

    I thought Hewson was smarter than this… if he doesn’t get it that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground he is part of the problem.

  27. Radbug 3 years ago

    Just like the last ocean liners, life is all about “best before end”. The Airbus 380 probably qualifies in there as well. Mullard made its best thermionic valves in the sixties. So it is that the coal industry makes its best stuff (corethane) just before the sun sets on it.

    • Andrew Thaler 3 years ago

      nah mate. Nice idea but nah.

  28. Ian 3 years ago

    Dinosaurs should lay down with the fossils and stay there. Lloyd Energy (now Graphite Energy) together with UNSW (from memory) built a pilot graphite solar plant at Cargelligo in NSW a few years back. Lloyd went legs up soon afterwards and everything was picked up by Graphite Energy. The big issue is glare. Other than that it works.

    Types of industries the LV should look at is carbon nanotubes and cheap carbon fibre from coal. Try creating carbon nanotubes to soak up CO2 and bind it. Develop a process to disperse and then automatically agglomerate the CO2 laden tubes in an oceanic environment.

    • Andrew Thaler 3 years ago

      The Lake Cargelligo plant is not operational to my knowledge. They abandoned it and walked (ran) away.

  29. Geoff 3 years ago

    Does hewson realize what he has just done? In one presentation he has totally destroyed any credibility that he had and exposed himself for the person that he really is. A low life old hat liberal who is tied to the carbon industry, just like abbott, and is trying to make a quick buck. A trillion dollar company – my god that guy must have some crazy dreams…

    • Andrew Thaler 3 years ago

      I would guess he is very very desperate, and low on money.

      • Geoff 3 years ago

        He would be doing ok if he kept on the correct path. instead he has just shot himself in the foot and big time…

      • Roger Brown 3 years ago

        He would be on the gravy train polly pension , so no low on money or desperate .

        • Daniel 3 years ago

          Desperate does not exclusively reside around paying rent, water, food, electricity.

        • Andrew Thaler 3 years ago

          then that would only serve to confirm that Hewson is therefore an absolute fool.

  30. Andrew Thaler 3 years ago

    I told ya’s.
    I told you straight after I saw Hewson spruce his shitty Solarstor crap at the Goulburn Community Energy meeting. Solarstor are my industrial neighbours in Cooma and prior to SolarStor they were Lloyd Energy under Bob Lloyd, researching ‘clean coal’.
    I can confirm that they do indeed use Hydrofluoric Acid to ‘clean’ the coal by dissolving the silica… and it is nasty stuff. Hydrofluoric acid is simply the nastiest and most dangerous acid known to man… one splash on your body results in death as it dissolves Calcium and hence will attack the bones in the body.
    Of course you cannot ‘clean’ coal economically and without emission-cost mechanisms (like carbon taxes) driving that need, and so the Lloyd energy clean coal thing dies off, but wasn’t cremated and buried it seems.
    Hewson, in my opinion, has invested his money in these dodgy businesses and is spruiking them to pump the share price, stir up a few government grants for ‘jobs’ and ‘research’ from gullible coal-loving politicians… so that he can get his money back and exit these dodgy businesses.
    SolarStor and this clean-coal stuff is pure bullshit. Avoid it. And to the politicians reading these posts… if what they are preaching is just *sooo* good it would be independent commercially viable and not be requiring of public grants.

    • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

      Andrew was unapologetically right !

      • Andrew Thaler 3 years ago

        just remember that Andrew is not a very nice person.

  31. Daniel 3 years ago

    An analysis of what a desperate capitalist is doing in the community

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