South Africa and EU strengthen clean coal cooperation

South Africa and EU strengthen clean coal cooperation

South Africa and the EU are beginning to co-operate closely in the field of clean coal technology and carbon capture and storage, with a joint working group facilitating R&D exchange.

Coal remains an important energy source for both the European Union and South Africa. However, both sides are fully aware of the pressing concerns relating to climate change. As coal is also a major source of CO2, both the EU and South Africa have a shared interest in reducing the carbon footprint of coal burning. Therefore the development of clean coal technology (CCT) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) are now issues of paramount importance.

During 2008, both sides have endeavoured to collaborate to find the best solution to this energy issue. A Working Group was established to ensure co-operation on the subjects of coal, clean coal technologies and carbon capture and storage. The group is jointly chaired by South Africa's Department of Minerals and Energy and the European Commission Transport and Energy Directorate-General, and takes places within the framework of the South Africa-EU Strategic Partnership and comprehensive Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement.

An inaugural meeting in April 2008, held in Cape Town, brought together officials from both sides as well as representatives of interested industries and energy institutes. This provided the perfect forum to exchange information on the different aspects of energy policy and coal use.

EU-South Africa summit

During the meeting a particular focus was placed on carbon capture and storage, the result being a proposal for the setting up a Centre of Excellence for CCS in South Africa. It is hoped that this institution will lead to closer co-operation on the subject of carbon capture and storage, and eventually result in the construction of a demonstration plant.

Following the success of the initial meeting of the Working Group, a second took place in Brussels in mid 2008. In addition, at the first ever EU-South Africa Summit held on 25 July 2008 in Bordeaux, France indicated that the issues of CCT and CCS were priorities for their combined energy strategy. Moreover, the issue of coal dominated the energy section of the resulting report on the ‘Implementation of the strategic partnership between South Africa and the EU, and priorities for future co-operation’.

Working together in FP7

Clean coal and carbon capture and storage technologies are two of the energy R&D areas in the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research and technological development, and present an opportunity for South Africa to increase its participation in FP7 energy activities. South Africa is one of the most successful third country participants in FP7 with more than 70 participations already, building on the solid foundations of close to 130 participations in FP6.

Through political, economic and developmental co-operation, South Africa and the EU have established a sound partnership, particularly in the field of science and technology. Since the 1996 Agreement on Science and Technology Co-operation, South African researchers have contributed to the EU research Framework Programmes. Born out of FP6, the European South African Science and Technology Advancement Programme (ESASTAP) is the FP7 bilateral co-operation support action for South Africa through the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST), and funded by the European Commission.

This programme enables scientists and institutions from the EU and South Africa jointly to explore new and emerging scientific and technological areas. Together with energy security, energy research and innovation have been labelled as priorities for South Africa's scientific and technological co-operation with the EU.

Developing further co-operation

In this co-operation process, ESASTAP hosted a special event at the South African Mission to the EU in Brussels in April 2008. This placed a particular emphasis on developing co-operation between South Africa and the EU in the specialist fields of clean-coal technology and carbon capture and storage.

“The main objective of the event was to raise awareness among the European R&D community about the potential for co-operation with South Africa in the field of clean coal technologies, especially within the context of FP7 and related to CCS,” explains Daan du Toit, South Africa's senior science & technology representative to the EU. Following the event, interested parties contacted the South African National Energy Research Institute (SANERI), which acts as South Africa's FP7 National Contact Point for energy research.

According to du Toit these contacts have resulted in South African organisations being involved in the preparation of submissions for the most recent FP7 energy call for proposals which closed on 25 November 2008. Many of these proposals had a specific focus on carbon capture and storage.

Speaking on the ever-increasing co-operation between the two sides, du Toit says: “South Africa's Department of Science and Technology and the Energy Directorate of the European Commission Research Directorate-General have started an energy research dialogue, most notably conducted through videoconference meetings between relevant experts to better identify opportunities for mutually beneficial energy research co-operation and mechanisms to support such collaboration.”

The issue of clean coal technology is an important focus area of this dialogue, and led to the participation of South African experts in the November 2008 general assembly of the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants (ETP-ZEP).

“The key challenge, which applies to all areas of the Framework Programme, is to identify areas of importance to South Africa in a given call, where South African expertise can add value to European research and innovation, and then link to South African groups to European consortia preparing proposals,” explains du Toit. He adds that South Africa had been doing this successfully in many areas, and was now determined to replicate such activity in the field of energy.


Clean coal technology

Coal-fuelled power plants are still a primary source of electricity generation worldwide, but have considerable potential for efficiency gains and emissions reductions. As such they are a key priority for research in FP7.

  • Development of clean coal strives to produce chemically-treated coal which has been purified of potential environmentally harmful minerals;
  • Through a process of chemical washing, clean-coal technologies ensure removal of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate emissions from the coal-burning process;
  • Clean coal does not remove CO2 from the smoke after burning, instead it limits the levels of CO2 emitted, although technologies to capture and store CO2 have been developed; and
  • Current challenges include economic viability, reduced waste and cleaner emissions.

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