1Our Campaigns 0Safe Climate The problem with brown coal

The problem with brown coal

Brown coal fuels 80 percent of the electricity generated in Victoria, making it a huge contributor to our total greenhouse gas emissions. It creates more pollution than other fuels such as black coal, natural gas and much more than clean renewable energy, making Victorians among the most greenhouse polluting people per capita on the planet.

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. Brown coal forms the basis for 92 percent of electricity generation in Victoria. More than 65 million tonnes of brown coal are burnt per year in this state.

In fact, we rely on brown coal more now than at any other time since the building of the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Over the last 10 years, Victoria’s reliance on coal has increased – right at the time when we should have been moving away from this polluting energy source towards a cleaner future.

Cleaning up our power

It's time to make the transition from polluting coal to clean, renewable energy. Tell the Turnbull government we need a national plan to phase out coal while supporting affected communities.