1Our Campaigns 0Safe Climate The problem with brown coal

The problem with brown coal

Victoria's coal power stations all burn brown coal, a fuel that is even more polluting than black coal.

What is brown coal?

Coal is formed when plant material is subjected to high temperatures and pressures lasting millions of years. Several stages are involved in the formation of coal. These are:

  • Plant material, wood
  • Peat
  • Brown coal (lignite)
  • Black coal (sub-bituminous, bituminous and anthracite)

Each successive stage has a lower water content and a higher energy content. This means that when the same quantity of each material is burned, a greater amount of heat is released for each successive stage.

Victorian brown coal has a high moisture content, containing more moisture than black coal – it can contain up to 70 percent water. This high moisture content makes long distance transportation uneconomic and so brown coal is not currently used for export markets. But that doesn’t mean big polluting companies don’t want to try. Check out the story behind our campaign against exporting brown coal here.


Brown coal is pulverised and then burned in large-scale boilers. The heat is used to boil water and the steam is used to drive turbines that generate electricity.

When brown coal is burnt it releases a long list of poisonous heavy metals and toxic chemicals like sulphur dioxide, mercury, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. By world standards these pollutants are poorly monitored & controlled, and they impose a staggering health cost of up to $800 million every year.

What is the future of brown Coal in Victoria?

Brown coal still makes up a large percentage of Victoria’s energy supply, but the shift to clean energy has already begun and is gathering pace.

Victoria’s renewable energy target is enshrined in legislation and aims to power Victoria with 40 per cent renewable energy by 2025, and 50 per cent by 2030 — we are already on target to greatly exceed that goal.

Despite the unpopularity and health impacts of mining and burning brown coal, there have been recent attempts to keep the industry afloat, such as the ‘Advanced Lignite Demonstration Project’. But despite the promise of tens of millions in government subsidies, all of the projects ultimately failed.

More recently both the Victorian and Federal governments helped fund a project that seeks to turn brown coal into hydrogen. However this looks like yet another boondoggle project set for failure.

Instead of offering false hope by throwing taxpayer money at speculative projects which are unlikely to deliver any real benefits, the focus needs to be on a ‘just transition’ and building the sustainable industries of the future.

A recent positive example of this was the announcement of an electric vehicle manufacturing plant to be set up in the Latrobe Valley, creating 500 jobs (more than were directly employed at the now closed Hazelwood power station).

Click here to read more about a ‘just transition’ in the Latrobe Valley >>


Cleaning up our power

It's time to make the transition from polluting coal to clean, renewable energy.