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What is it?

Coal or oil is heated in the absence of oxygen, in order to degrade it into char, pyrolysis oil and syngas.

Why is it important?

This process is well understood, established at industrial scale, and produces other useful by-products alongside hydrogen.


  • Inputs: Heat, coal or oil
  • By-products: CO2, ethylene, acetylene, carbon
  • Operating temperature: >500°C


  • Toxic components are degraded by high temperatures
  • Established industrial process
  • A range of useful by-products
  • Can accept varied quality of feedstock
  • No water required


  • Produces lower quantities of hydrogen per unit coal than in coal gasification
  • High operational costs
  • Purification system required to treat flue gases from the process
  • By-products contain high heavy metal content
  • Requires CCUS to achieve low carbon emissions

RD&D priorities

  • Develop cheap and effective hydrogen separation systems to obtain appropriately pure hydrogen for specific applications
  • Develop and demonstrate effective means of integrating carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) to achieve zero-to-low carbon emissions
  • Improve appliance and plant design for greater flexibility in ramping up and ramping down
  • Integrate renewable energy sources. For example, concentrated solar power can act as a thermal energy source for the process
  • Establish environmentally suitable treatment of waste by-products
  • Improve reactor design to accommodate highly exothermic or endothermic reactions (e.g. staged introduction of reagents, better designed heat transfer surfaces, process intensification, advanced materials, reaction monitoring/control, pre-treatment of waste streams)

Known active organisations

  • The University of Newcastle
  • The University of Western Australia

Other opportunities like this

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