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01 September 2008

Coal Liquefaction

An interesting commentary on coal liquefaction by E. Ralph Hostetter appeared in the 31 August 2008 Washington Times. Coal can be converted into liquid gasoline and diesel fuel using hot water under pressure to form a mixture of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide. In the presence of heat, pressure, and a suitable catalyst, such as iron, this mixture will form long hydrocarbon chains.

The United States mines more than 1 billion tons of coal a year. We have 275 billion tons of recoverable coal, 1/4th of the world's estimated coal reserves. American Clean Coal Fuels in Illinois is developing a 30,000 barrel per day biomass and coal-to-liquid operation. Baard Energy is building a 53,000 barrels per day coal and biomass to liquid facility on the Ohio River. Rentech is building a facility in Natchez, Mississippi to produce 29,000 barrels per day. DKRW is constructing a 20,000 barrel per day plant in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. The U. S. Dept. of Energy is predicting 3.7 million barrels per day of liquid from coal by 2030. About 1.25 barrels of oil can be formed from each ton of coal. If the U. S. mined another 1 billion tons of coal a day and converted it into liquid fuels, we could reduce crude oil imports by 15% and decrease import costs by $100 billion per year.


Miss Breeziness said...

That's pretty cool. Although, with the number of people who tend to die in coal mines, I wonder if nuclear is still not a better option.

Still, this whole thing reminded me of Ellis Wyatt's new shale oil method in Atlas Shrugged, and if the result can be used to power cars it's certainly a good thing!

Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. said...

Nuclear is a great source of power. It does have some safety advantages over deep coal mining.

The coal liquefaction makes most sense where inexpensive coal is mined. In the American west, there are many coal seams which are mined by pit methods and much of it is relatively low grade coal. So, transporting it as coal is a significant cost that reduces its value. This is important, because this coal is often far from population centers. If this coal is liquefied, its economic value increases and it becomes more energy and volume compact. It is then easier to justify its transportation over longer distances. Consequently, it is probably open pit mined western coal which will be primarily liquefied and its mining is at least safer than is that of deep coal mines.