Coal is critical to the world as we know it, says UJ’s Prof Nicola Wagner

Coal is critical to the world, as we know it. As a society, we need to ensure the sustainable, environmentally responsible use of coal. This is according to Prof Nicola Wagner, the Director of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Integrated Mineral and Energy Resource Analysis (DSI-NRF CIMERA), located in the Geology Department at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

She pointed out that coal production is not only of great significance for the South African economy – providing notable foreign revenue and 69% of primary energy supply – but that it continues to grow globally due to the demand for low cost energy and many other industrial applications. She delivered her professorial inauguration address titled: The Significance of Coal beyond Electricity Generation. Professor Wagner’s virtual inaugural address took place on Wednesday, 3 March 2021.

Reflecting on coal as a geological resource, Prof Wagner reinforced that an understanding of coal quality is vitally important when considering the use of coal. “Without coal, it is near on impossible to manufacture and install clean, sustainable energy forms. In all likelihood, the production of cement, concrete, glass, aluminium, and steel, will require the input of coal and carbon. Coal and carbon are fuel sources supplying heat energy and liquid energy. Both coal and carbon are vital reductants in metallurgical applications, and are even a source of construction materials. Coal and coal ash are also an alternative source of rare earth elements and critical raw materials, both required for the operation of clean technologies. Thus, there are many applications of coal in industries beyond primary electricity generation. The future and importance of coal as a geological resource will be related to the production of coke, carbon materials, carbon derivatives, liquid fuels, other chemical products, and critical raw materials,” she explained.

Prof Wagner is an internationally recognised specialist in coal and organic petrography with very close links to the fossil fuel industry in southern Africa. Prior to joining UJ in 2014, Prof Wagner held the position as Associate Professor in the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering (2006-2014) at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Senior Researcher at SASOL (2000 – 2006). She received a C1 rating from the NRF in 2015, is a Fellow of the Geological Society of South Africa and Council Member of the International Committee for Organic Petrology (ICCP), and serves on the editorial boards of three international journals specialising in coal science and technology.

Prof Wagner has been an active member of the research team of DSI-NRF CIMERA since its inception in 2014, and currently supervises postgraduate students on research ranging from coal geology in Africa, organic petrography and shale gas, trace and rare earth elements in coal, and carbon capture and storage.

prof nicola wagner
Prof Nikki Wagner
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