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James MacPherson, Published November 15 2013

ND, Australia share info on low-grade coal

BISMARCK – North Dakota and Australia claim the world’s biggest caches of proven lignite reserves, and industry groups from both places have agreed to share information on how to reduce emissions and increase efficiencies at factories that use the plentiful but low-grade coal.

The Lignite Energy Council said it formed a partnership late last month with Melbourne-based Brown Coal Innovation Australia. An agreement signed by the groups said the intent is to “harness their complimentary resources and expertise to develop and pursue cooperative activities associated with coal.”

North Dakota state geologist Ed Murphy said there are 150 billion tons of proven lignite reserves worldwide. Only Australia, with 37 billion tons of proven lignite reserves, has more than North Dakota’s 25 billion tons.

Lignite is sometimes called brown coal and is usually geologically younger than other coals, Murphy said. Lignite can contain from 30 percent to 60 percent water, making it inefficient to burn and heavier and more costly to transport. Drier coal creates more energy and lessens the amount of power needed to process and burn it, reducing pollution from factory stacks.

North Dakota has seven coal-fueled electric power plants and a factory that produces synthetic natural gas from lignite coal. The state’s lignite mines in west-central North Dakota produce close to 30 million tons of fuel annually.