Centre becomes UQ Centre for Natural Gas

Australian natural gas in demand to help the transition to a lower emission future

With the energy space evolving rapidly, UQ is moving early to ensure that it has the capacity to take on the growing ambit of natural gas research for Australia.

UQ is renaming its Centre for Coal Seam Gas as the UQ Centre for Natural Gas, giving the centre scope to broaden its research portfolio to the production of other forms of natural gas.

Giving Australia the edge

Director of the Centre, Professor Andrew Garnett says that natural gas is flagged to play a major role in reducing carbon emissions over the next 20-30 years as the world transitions to renewables and low carbon energy solutions. As a result, the role of research and innovation in gas has been moved closer to centre stage.

“Using natural gas for energy production, when production processes are optimised, produces significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than other fossil fuels; and it is something we can do now,” he explains.

“Gas-fired power stations can play a leading role in supporting renewable energy use as they can quickly increase or decrease electricity production to meet changing demand across the energy grid and therefore support stability of large-scale energy supply.

“To achieve emissions reduction commitments, the world peak energy group, the International Energy Agency, projects that natural gas production will need to grow to account for a quarter of global energy demand by 2040 in some scenarios.

“Australia’s abundant gas resources create the potential for the country to be a major global supplier of natural gas to help meet the increasing demand for cleaner, affordable energy over the multi-decade transition to a low emissions future.

“It is imperative that Australia manages the process well -  that means the applying the highest technical standards, maximising local socio-economic benefits, minimising environmental impacts and fugitive emissions, and optimising resource recovery.”

Changing the energy conversation is vital – it’s not ‘OR’ its ‘AND’

Professor Garnett says what is often missed in the energy transition story is that while all eyes are on renewables, this in itself is over-simplified. He describes the challenge ahead as a complex “AND” challenge.

“We want to reduce emissions AND increase energy access AND keep the lights on AND maintain stability AND security AND affordability AND win social acceptance. We also want to do this in a period where increases in global population and growing affluence which is driving demand for greater access to energy,” he says.

Professor Garnett that while the public debate often describes this as a simple choice between renewables and conventional energy sources, unfortunately the complexity of the challenge will demand a complex “AND” solution.

“Against a backdrop of rising populations, reducing carbon intensity AND carbon emissions across the globe requires solar AND wind AND hydro AND natural gas AND efficiency improvements AND carbon capture and storage AND hydrogen AND,” he says.

“Unfortunately there is no silver bullet and the energy mix will likely be an evolving, long-term 30+ year, investment-intensive process.

“The pace at which renewables alone can be developed and rolled out, together with inherent technical and environmental limitations, mean that a ‘one-horse show’ cannot come anywhere close to being able to deliver on both the growing global energy needs and the current global carbon reduction commitments, let alone the broader aspiration of zero emissions.”

That will mean the transition will likely be a prolonged and staged process, with capacity bought online as investment in research, infrastructure and technology allows.

"This can only be achieved through a mix of energies, and using all available technologies to create the best outcome,” says Professor Garnett.

Research and innovation imperative

UQ is looking at research and innovation across the energy mix ranging from primary energy sources such as solar, wave or natural gas, to energy storage in new batteries, to better energy distribution services and end use in transport and buildings.

“As a university, UQ recognises the significant duty of public research to underpin the innovations needed for a more sustainable, cleaner energy future," says Professor Garnett.

“Taking on board the analysis provided by the both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency of what’s needed to accelerate the transition to clean energy and to meet escalating demand for energy, we can expect the energy mix over the next 20-30 years to be in flux as energy industries work on optimising their technology.

"What seems to be a given though, is that while we strive to bring emissions down, both power outages and high prices are politically and economically unsustainable.

“Careful long-range planning to optimise the changing contribution of different energy sources throughout the transition period is essential to provide certainty of supply and also maximise the rate of carbon emission reduction to be achieved.”

Strong base of research with real-world impact

Professor Garnett says that UQ’s coal seam gas research is recognised globally for delivering new knowledge with real-world impact. The Centre has established a strong network of experts and strong industry partnerships, and building on these partnerships will be a key focus of the Centre going forward.

“UQ is ensuring its research centres are set up to meet the expanding and changing research needs in the energy space,” he says.

“UQ has a strong base of energy experts right across the energy mix and this move strengthens the university’s ability to deliver real world impact for an energy source that is expected to play a significant role in the coming energy transition.”


The UQ Centre for Natural Gas is a centre of research excellence. It conducts real-world research focussed on optimising Australia’s natural gas industry terms of environmental performance, social performance, and optimisation of cost of operation and supply. The real-world research undertaken at the UQ Centre for Natural Gas is made possible through funding and support of The University of Queensland and industry organisations Arrow Energy, Santos and APLNG.

There are more forms of gas than coal seam gas. In recent years there’s been a proliferation of names: coal seam gas (coal bed methane everywhere else in the world), shale gas, tight gas, conventional gas, associated gas (gas which is associated with the production of oil). It’s all natural gas; that is, very light hydrocarbons (entirely or predominantly methane), which is produced by the natural deep burial of organic rich sediments (coals and shales).

Natural gas is the natural back up for renewables as that technology is developed during the transition to lower emission sources.

“The task ahead is fundamentally an ‘AND’ challenge. Reducing carbon intensity and carbon emissions across the globe requires renewables AND efficiency improvements AND carbon capture and storage AND gas AND hydrogen AND solar AND…”

- Professor Andrew Garnett, Director of the UQ Centre for Natural Gas


Australia’s abundant
gas resources
create the potential
for the country to be a
major global supplier
of natural gas to help meet
the increasing demand for
cleaner, affordable energy
over the multi-decade transition
to a lower emissions future.
“As the global population tends towards 10 billion in the 2050 timeframe, natural gas is flagged to play a major transitional role in reducing emissions over several decades, the role of research and innovation in gas is essential in enabling this role”

- Professor Peta Ashworth OAM, UQ Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures

In the future, gas-based energy production can be further decarbonised by carbon capture and storage. Natural gas needs to fulfil a few transition functions and needs to be plentiful and affordable in the medium term to do this.

First it needs to be a preferred choice to coal in power generation.

Second, it needs to firm-up, intermittent renewables.

Third, it is the feedstock for most of the world’s nitrogen fertiliser and so also plays a key role in the food supply chain for a growing world.

It may even be a key source for low cost hydrogen if the carbon is captured and used or sequestered.