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Curtin's associate professor Hari Vuthaluru has won a $1.1 million grant from an Indian utility

Seven ways WA stays top in traditional fuels

Almost half of the growth in the world’s energy demand in 2018 was fuelled by gas, according to the International Energy Agency. Consumption of coal, oil and nuclear power rose too. WA has both enormous commodity reserves and a workforce with the smarts to unlock these resources.

(Click here for a PDF of the full Great for the State liftout)

Exploring efficiency

Kwinana will be home to a $40 million small-scale LNG plant designed to accelerate adoption of research across the energy industry.

Chevron, Shell, Hyundai Heavy Industries, National Energy Resources Australia and the University of Western Australia are among the organisations backing the Kwinana plant, which received $10 million in funding from the state government in early April.

UWA Chevron chair in gas process engineering Eric May told Business News it would be a world-first facility for the industry.

“(The) function is not to make LNG specifically, but rather be there as national infrastructure for industrial-scale research and development and demonstrating new technology,” Professor
May said.

“The oil and gas sector has quite a long time (lag) for new technology to get adopted because the scale of the industry is so large that the risk associated with anything new is very big.

“This is a barrier to innovative small companies and even larger ones.”

Trialling ideas to increase throughput at plants was one example of potential uses.

“No one wants to test with a large plant, (but) with a small one … if it doesn’t actually work that’s fine,” he said.

A second area of interest would be preventing freezing in processing plants.

“We’ve been looking a lot at stopping LNG plants from having heart attacks,” Professor May said.

“These are big refrigerators; the gas has come from a natural source and its full of impurities … it can freeze out and cause blockages.”

An additional benefit was that it would help educate and train the LNG workforce on a live plant.

Professor May said the university was also working with a wider consortium to bid for a Future Energy Exports Cooperative Research Centre.

A federal funding decision on that is expected later this year.

Stability 

An important but often overlooked strength for WA and Australia is its political stability.

That is one reason why the state has continued to attract a high level of resources investment, even as costs go up.

Western Australia ranked third of 83 regions in the world in the Fraser Institute’s 2018 survey of mining jurisdictions.

Woodside’s investment plans

Two big gas fields off Western Australia’s coast have remained untapped for decades because of their remoteness, Scarborough and Browse.

But in a testament to WA entrepreneurship, both could be unlocked by Woodside Petroleum in the next decade, with the two projects worth a combined $35 billion.

In the case of Browse, gas will be piped 900 kilometres from north of Broome to be processed at the existing North West Shelf facility near Karratha, filling an
expected capacity gap.

For Scarborough, there’s engineering work under way, with a multi-user pipeline across the Carnarvon Basin planned.

Gas would be liquefied at an expanded Pluto plant
(photo), also near Karratha.

Between the two plants, production would be roughly
25 million tonnes per annum, more than Nigeria’s total output in 2017.

In addition to the economic impact of the investment, there’s research work being undertaken about the most effective way to construct such a massive pipe.

The Centre for Long Subsea Tiebacks at the University of Western Australia was launched late last year, with
Chevron and Woodside as partners.

The centre is intended to improve understanding of hostile deep sea conditions and support the economic feasibility of remote offshore production.

Nuclear potential

Western Australia has never exported uranium, although the state has about 226,000 tonnes of known uranium deposits.

To put the number in context, global production was 62,000 tonnes in 2018.

Nuclear-powered electricity production grew by 3.3 per cent in 2018, mainly as a result of new capacity in China and the restart of four reactors in Japan, according to the International Energy Agency.

Government policy has been restrictive about uranium production, although the four projects which have been given approval will be allowed to proceed, if prices permit.

The approved projects include Toro Energy’s Wiluna, Vimy Resources’ Mulga Rock and Cameco’s Yeelirrie.

Marine fuel

Perth’s LNG Marine Fuel Institute is taking the lead on advocating for the use of LNG in shipping, as international regulators tighten emissions standards.

One Chinese study found that 24,000 premature deaths in East Asia annually could be linked to air pollution from ships, according to the institute.

About 80 ports around the world are building capacity to fuel LNG-powered ships.

Woodside’s marine-powered supply vessel, the Siem Thiima (photo) was built in 2016.

There were about 550 LNG-powered vessels
in the world in 2018.

Massive reserves

Western Australia has 70 trillion cubic feet of conventional gas reserves, according to the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation.

There’s a further 270tcf of onshore shale and tight gas which may be economical to extract in future.

To put that in context, the Browse project contains about 14tcf.

Curtin’s coal study

At Curtin University’s Fuel and Energy Technology Institute, work is under way on improving solar collectors and biomass generators.

There’s also research to improve the efficiency of coal, with a team led by associate professor Hari Vuthaluru (photo) winning a $1.1 million grant from an Indian utility last year.

A large number of India’s coal plants are ‘subcritical’, meaning less than 35 per cent of the energy they produce becomes electricity.

The Curtin team will sharpen up the efficiency of coal boilers to get the best energy output out of the rock, and the lowest emissions, catering to different coal chemistries.

“We’re halfway through,” Mr Vuthaluru said.

“We’ve built a comprehensive model and trained people in India with that model.

“(We’ve) identified some hotspots and why they’re occurring in a real plant, we’re trying to see how best we can control those problems.

“That’s one way to actually improve the efficiency, there might be some areas where heat is not getting utilised properly for the generation of steam.”

He said the next step for the project would be lab testing Indian coal to use in model parameters for predicting issues like ash deposition.

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Top 10 Shareholders

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Total Shareholder Return as at 30/04/19

1 year TSR5 year TSR
53rdFortescue Metals Group70%13%
186thWoodside Petroleum16%3%
324thSouth32-6%
354thMineral Resources-10%10%
373rdOM Holdings-13%25%
729 WA (and selected non WA) listed companies ranked by 1 year TSR relative to other companies with similar revenue
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06/03/19
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01/03/19
$286k Bought
28/02/19
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Revenue

1st↑South32$10,519.6m
2nd↓Fortescue Metals Group$9,358.7m
3rd-Woodside Petroleum$7,536.1m
4th-Mineral Resources$1,706.7m
5th↑OM Holdings$1,512.8m
486 listed resources companies ranked by revenue.
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Special Report

Great for the State - Edition 2: The Future of Energy

Great for the State - Edition 2: The Future of Energy

07 May 2019

This edition highlights how Western Australia is powering the world into the future, with gas, lithium, hydrogen, and advancements in use of small power networks all part of the state’s strengths. Communities such as Bridgetown and Kwinana stand to benefit from the global move towards batteries for storing energy and powering vehicles, while there’s research under way to advance WA’s capability to move downstream along the value chain. We’ve also explored some of the developments in hydrogen. Business News wants to celebrate the entrepreneurs, the researchers and the leaders who make our state the envy of the world, so our Great for the State series has no paywall.

From gas to lithium, WA powering the world
Electric time for energy hopefuls
Hydrogen fires burning passion for innovation
Spearheading move to power off grid
Seven ways WA stays top in traditional fuels
WA Leads The Charge In Battery Minerals
Electrifying the transport network
Energy choices and health: a fine balance
The future of energy