Press Archive

Twitter

High fuel prices and renewed emphasis on energy independence could have consumers pumping gasoline made from coal in the not-too-distant future. 

Bluefield Daily Telegraph: July 8, 2006-- High fuel prices and renewed emphasis on energy independence could have consumers pumping gasoline made from coal in the not-too-distant future.

It’s not a pie-in-the-sky dream, researchers say, but proven technology pioneered in Germany and utilized in South Africa for more than 20 years.

Coal-to-liquid plants are now being proposed across the U.S., and West Virginia is among the top coal-rich states actively wooing private investors for the billions of dollars needed in start-up funding.

And, at least one researcher believes it “makes sense” to have such a plant in southern West Virginia, where there is an abundance of coal and transportation costs of the end product would be less than in the Midwest or West Coast.

“Somebody is going to build a CTL plant in your area,” Frank Clemente, senior professor of Energy Policy at Penn State University, said. “I guarantee it.”

The U.S. has a huge problem with oil, and needs to kick its addiction, Clemente said.

“Coal is coming back,” he said. “This is like ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,’ ’’

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said he is committed to making West Virginia a leader in coal-to-liquid development. “It (coal-to-liquid technology) will be the most wonderful thing to happen to this state,” he said.

Fueling invention

While Americans may have complained about the cost of oil — or, at least, gasoline off-and-on in recent decades — the nation has had a supply of crude. That’s not always been the case for other countries.

This necessity for fuel spurred the development of the process to turn coal into gasoline. In 1925, Germans Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch pioneered an indirect liquefaction process to transform coal into liquid fuel.

“The Germans didn’t have any oil. They had to have access to fuel,” Clemente said, noting this coal-to-liquid process was used to fuel Nazi tanks and airplanes during World War II.

At peak production in 1944, Germany had 25 liquefaction plants that produced more than 124,000 barrels daily and met 90 percent of the nation’s needs, the National Mining Association reports.

Experiments in coal-to-liquid technology did not go far in the U.S. But in South Africa, it was a different story.

In the 1950s, the company Sasol developed a commercial coal liquids industry to produce gasoline and diesel using synthetic gas created from the gasification of coal, according to the Mining Association.

For South Africa, gasoline from coal was, again, a matter of necessity.

Due to apartheid-related embargoes, the country was forced to develop a technology to fuel its nation, Clemente said.

Since the early 1980s, Sasol has produced more than 700 million barrels of synthetic fuels from coal, the Mining Association states. And about 85 percent of the coal consumed in the country is used as fuel feedstock or to produce electricity.

Sasol continues to be a driving force in CTL development and technology, with U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, R-Va., calling it “the world leader” in production of coal to liquids.

Coal can be transformed into fuel by two methods:

  • Direct liquefaction, in which coal is broken down in a solvent at high temperature and pressure, followed by interaction with hydrogen gas and a catalyst.
  • Indirect liquefaction, a process that first gasifies coal, and then uses this “syngas” to make synthetic fuels.


Gasification of coal involves heating it above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit with oxygen inside a pressurized chamber.

During South Africa’s coal-to-liquid reign, West Virginia almost had a foray into the technology.

In the 1970s, a synthetic refined coal program was developed during the energy crisis in that decade, according to energy advisor to Gov. Manchin, Pat Esposito. The first demonstration plant for the program was slated to be built in Fort Martin, near Morgantown.

But, “OPEC turned the spigot back on,” Esposito said.

When the administration headed by President Ronald Reagan then came in, the program was canceled due to a perceived lack of need, he said.

Yet, Esposito posed the question: “If we started at that point, where would the country be now?”

In an age when environment friendliness can be a key concern, coal-to-gasoline has its perks.

The basics of the Fischer-Tropsch process is to take coal and gasify it, then liquefy it, Clemente said. “What you come out with is gasoline and diesel.” he said. “The fuel you get from this is cleaner and more efficient. The end product is cleaner.” The sulfur is taken out of coal during the conversion process, Clemente said.

Another problem with coal is the release of carbon monoxide, he said, explaining this, too, can be taken out and sequestered using coal-to-liquid technology. “You can store it so you don’t have it going into the environment,” he said.

The magic number

If coal-to-liquid technology is possibly and potentially better for the environment, why hasn’t the U.S. pursued the technology?

Until recently, it didn’t make sense — dollars and sense, that is.

Department of Energy numbers indicate CTL technology is not economically feasible unless the price of crude oil is $40 a barrel of higher, Boucher said. In recent weeks, the price of crude has hovered at $70 a barrel or higher, and the DOE is forecasting this trend will continue for about 25 years, he said.

But not all are convinced of this economic forecast.

Boucher said some Wall Street analysts believe “if you take the political risk component out of the price of oil, the price will settle back down to about $35 per barrel.” The “political component” being a resolution to the Iraq War, “the nuclear issue in Iran,” or other hot-button global issues, he said.

Until recently, the “price point” has not existed, Esposito said. “There’s no reason why folks would pay for synthetic fuels.”

But high crude oil prices now make CTL a viable option, experts say, although there is estimated initial costs of a billion or more to construct such a plant.

In West Virginia, Manchin has reactivated the state’s long-dormant Public Energy Authority, agency Executive Director Paul Hardesty said. The organization has bonding authority “to facilitate projects such as coal-to-liquids or any other type of alternative fuel,” he said.

“Just about any state that has coal as a resource is looking at this as an opportunity,” Esposito said.

“A typical coal-to-liquid plant would use about 6 million tons of coal a year,” Clemente said, noting a proposed plant anticipates “producing about 20 thousand barrels of a day.” Clemente said he is unaware of any operational coal-to-liquid plants in the United States. “All are under construction or being planned. They (working plants) are in Asia or South Africa.”

But, Clemente emphasized, this is an established method. “This is not a pie-in-the-sky technology,” he said. “It’s worked for almost 100 years ... it’s not science fiction.”

Manchin has charged his energy officials to study and move forward with this process, he said.

The demand for fuel products makes the potential for multiple coal-to-liquid plants feasible — not just in the U.S., but West Virginia, Esposito said. “I think West Virginia is in an ideal position,” he said. “Any state that has coal could have several facilities, and it would only be a drop in the bucket.”

As reported by:

Samantha Perry
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A new technology can help provide electricity from coal in an environmentally sustainable way, according to a technical report EPA released today.

Washington, D.C. - July 7, 2006-- A new technology can help provide electricity from coal in an environmentally sustainable way, according to a technical report EPA released today. The technology, known as Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC), partially burns coal to generate gas. EPA examined the environmental impacts of IGCC technology as part of the agency’s continued efforts to understand how the latest available science and technology could lead to a cleaner method to generate power from coal.

The technical report found that IGCC can lower air emissions, lower water usage and produce less solid waste. The technical report also found that IGCC has the potential to provide a more cost effective approach to capture carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, produced during coal combustion.

More than 50 percent of electricity in the United States is generated from the burning of coal. Only two coal fired power plants in the country currently use IGCC technology; however, several companies have announced plans to build and operate additional IGCC facilities. EPA will continue to monitor the progress of IGCC technology as more facilities begin using the technology.

Media Contact:

John Millet, EPA
Phone: (202) 564-4355
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Given his way, Rep. Nick Rahall says he wants to move American motorists from the gas pump to the coal pump.

The Register-Herald: July 13, 2006-- Given his way, Rep. Nick Rahall says he wants to move American motorists from the gas pump to the coal pump.

In essence, that’s the thrust of the proposed Coal-to-Liquid Energy Act of 2006 he offered Thursday as a means of expanding the use of coal-based fuels.

One part of his bill would amend the 2005 act so that commercial coal liquefaction facilities can leverage money from existing federal energy project loan programs.

Another would set up a loan program within the Department of Energy to commercialize coal-to-liquid facilities.

“While other industrialized countries have embraced weaning themselves off imported oil by commercializing coal-to-liquid fuel technologies for transportation, the United States has lagged behind,” he said. “My bill aims to jump-start a coal-to-liquid industry for West Virginia and America and ensure its long-term viability.”

Last year, Gov. Joe Manchin announced his own initiative to launch an alternate fuels industry by using vast coal reserves in West Virginia.

Rahall, D-W.Va., said he sees a unique window of opportunity, given the soaring oil prices, increased consumption, and instability in oil-producing regions.

But past experiences have merely inspired short-term measures that only lent temporary relief, he said.

“If our nation will simply take the long view, and make the necessary investments in coal-to-liquids now, we can cushion the blow of future fuel cost spikes and valleys that inflict economic pain on working families.”

Rahall’s proposal would also empower the energy secretary to buy coal-to-liquid fuels for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It also would extend through 2020 the availability of a relatively new federal fuel excise tax credit for coal-to-liquid transportation fuels.

For more than half a century, he said, South Africa has used liquefied coal, and its Sasol facilities provide 30 percent of that nation’s liquid fuel requirements.

In a move to meet its burgeoning demand, Rahall noted, China is aggressively pursuing the same technology.

“Other countries have realized the value of coal in answering their transportation fuel needs,” he said. “It’s time the U.S. caught on. West Virginia coal is ready and able to address America’s energy challenges.”

As reported by:

Mannix Porterfield
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
As fuel prices nationwide continue to hover at or above record prices, a series of bills designed to accelerate the domestic production and use of coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuels have recently been introduced in the House of Representatives as part of an effort to control energy costs and promote U.S. energy independence.  Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) recently introduced the “Clean Coal-Derived Fuels for Energy Security Act” (H.R. 6170), which mandates the production of 6 billion gallons of CTL fuels by 2022. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) joined Capito as an original co-sponsor of the bill.  As fuel prices nationwide continue to hover at or above record prices, a series of bills designed to accelerate the domestic production and use of coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuels have recently been introduced in the House of Representatives as part of an effort to control energy costs and promote U.S. energy independence.  Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) recently introduced the “Clean Coal-Derived Fuels for Energy Security Act” (H.R. 6170), which mandates the production of 6 billion gallons of CTL fuels by 2022. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) joined Capito as an original co-sponsor of the bill.  Fuel produced to meet the mandate would be used for aviation fuel, motor vehicle fuel, home heating oil and boiler fuel. The mandate begins in 2015 with a requirement that 750 million gallons of CTL fuel be produced, with that figure increasing annually until the 6 billion gallon target is reached.  “West Virginians are feeling it at the gas station and they’re feeling high gas prices in the spike in food costs,” said Capito in a May 27 statement. “It’s time for an all-hands-on deck policy and coal must play a part in our energy solutions,” she said. Capito stressed that America’s “coal reserves are larger than the combined oil reserves of the rest of the world,” saying “it’s time to get serious about coal-to-liquids.”  Capito emphasized that CTL fuels “can be clean, can be produced domestically, will create American jobs, are economically viable and is the right thing for West Virginia.”  Information on Rep. Capito’s bill is available at: Clean Coal-Derived Fuels for Energy Security Act. A copy  of the bill is available at: H.R. 6170.  More information on CTL fuels is available at: www.futurecoalfuels.org.