About clean coal tech, thanks PD:
Thursday, 15 February 2007
Industry can gag research: CSIRO
The CSIRO has confirmed coal industry bodies have the power to suppress a new report questioning the cost and efficiency of clean-coal carbon capture technologies because they partly funded the research.
Dr David Brockway, chief of CSIRO’s division of energy technology, told a Senate estimates committee hearing yesterday it was “not necessarily unusual” for private-industry partners investing in research programs – such as Cooperative Research Centres – to request reports be withheld from public release if findings were deemed to be not in their best interests.
His comments followed questions by Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne regarding the release of an economic assessment by a senior CSIRO scientist of a new carbon capture technology to reduce greenhouse emissions from coal-fired power stations.
Senator Milne later described the report’s possible suppression as “utterly scandalous behaviour” and contrary to the national interests at a time when climate change was the most pressing issue facing Australia.
Dr Brockway confirmed the report which The Canberra Times understands was largely completed last year – may never be made public. He suggested industry partners tended to regard research as their intellectual property because “they pay for it.”
The economic assessment, co-authored by CSIRO chemical engineer and carbon capture expert Dr Greg Duffy as part of CSIRO’s participation in the Cooperative Research Centre for Coal in Sustainable Development, was due to be issued last year. According to a summary of the report’s findings in the CRC’s recently issued annual report, it raises questions about the efficiency of a new carbon capture technology known as the aqua ammonia process.
It says the process is “seriously limited by problems” and “unlikely to be favoured commercially” over the traditional and flawed MEA (monoethanolamine) process for carbon removal from emissions.
CSIRO sources contacted by The Canberra Times last night claimed the report’s release had been indefinitely postponed and when finally published, it might only be made available to coal industry partners through a “members only” section of the centre’s website.
After the estimates hearing, Senator Milne called for the report to be issued as soon as possible by CSIRO and the CRC for public scrutiny.
“What we have here is a situation where research that is funded by the Australian taxpayer and in the public interest can be kept secret because it doesn’t suit the agenda of private sector interests,” she said.
“If this situation is typical as CSIRO has implied then it makes you wonder how many scientific reports haven’t seen the light of day.”
Senator Milne said she had made subsequent inquiries about rules governing CRC reports and was told “certain provisions mean some reports are regarded as owned by the private sector.”
“This has to change. Research cannot be suppressed or censored in this way” she said.
The Cooperative Research Centres program was established in 1990 by the Federal Government to bring together scientists and research users to conduct and fund research “to enhance Australia’s industrial, commercial and economic growth.”
Research programs are jointly funded by the Department of Education, Science and Training, universities, state government agencies and private industry.
The CRC for Coal in Sustainable Development has 19 funding partners, including CSIRO’s division of energy technology, Australian Coal Research, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto Energy, Stanwell Corporation, Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, Wesfarmers Premier Coal and Xstrata Coal.
Dr Brockway told the estimates hearing CSIRO’s energy division was focusing considerable research efforts on developing new methods of capturing carbon emissions and described carbon capture as “a key feature” in reducing Australia’s greenhouse emissions.
He said he was not aware of the findings of Dr Duffy’s economic assessment of the aqua ammonia carbon capture process and had no knowledge of the report’s current status.
“I don’t know very much about it,” he said.
Last September, Dr Duffy told a House of Representatives committee inquiry into geosequestration (carbon capture and burial) technology that carbon capture would double the cost of baseload electricity generation and reduce the output from a power station by “about 30 per cent”.
It would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” to retrofit coal-fired power stations with carbon capture equipment, he said.
The CRC for Coal in Sustainable Development also delayed release of a CSIRO report on solar thermal technology which described it as “the only renewable technology that can make deep cuts in greenhouse emissions” and predicted it would be cost competitive with coal by 2015. The report was released last year after The Canberra Times obtained a copy.
The Canberra Times
Copyright © 2007. Rural Press Limited