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State's Dobriansky says efforts benefit growth, development, democracy.

The following article appears in the July 2006 issue of the State Department's electronic journal series Economic Perspectives. The complete issue, titled Clean Energy Solutions, can be viewed on the USINFO Web site.

Clean Energy for Tomorrow
By Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State

July 6, 2006-- Ensuring access to ample, affordable, clean, and sustainable sources of energy is unquestionably one of the greatest challenges facing the modern world. The U.S. government and America’s private sector and nongovernmental organizations are confronting it by building on a long tradition of clean energy research to develop transformational technologies that will reduce our reliance on oil and have far-reaching benefits for the entire world.

By embracing the energy challenge, the United States is working to promote energy security, reduce poverty, reduce harmful air pollution, and address climate change. These efforts often strengthen self-governing societies by building a culture of democracy at the grassroots level.

The Energy Challenge

Rarely does a day pass without an energy-related issue making the headlines. Whenever world leaders meet, energy is an important and urgent topic of discussion. From the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development to the 2005 Gleneagles Group of Eight (G8) Summit to the 2005-2007 energy cycle of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, energy is front and center. 

And for good reason. Supply disruptions and rising prices loom large in day-to-day decisions about how we fuel our vehicles, heat our homes, and power our businesses. What’s more, approximately two billion people -- nearly one-third of the world’s population -- lack access to the modern energy services that are essential for bringing schools into the 21st century, driving industry, moving water, and boosting crop production, as well as for lighting, heating, and cooling health facilities. 

The integrated goals of energy security and poverty alleviation are also inextricably linked with the need to reduce harmful air pollution and address climate change. The World Health Organization estimates that 4,400 people die every day from indoor air pollution, much of which is associated with unhealthy cooking and heating practices. 

Developing Clean and Affordable Energy Technologies

The United States believes that the best way to promote energy security and help nations develop, while protecting the environment and improving public health, is to promote clean and affordable energy technologies. We will need a diversified approach that includes conventional, advanced, and renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies.

The U.S. government, frequently in partnership with the private sector, is pursuing both domestically and internationally a suite of technologies that should be incrementally deployed by the second half of this century. These include new biofuels from nonfood crops; clean coal technology; commercialization of plug-in hybrid autos; hydrogen fuel cell technology; more efficient, proliferation-resistant nuclear systems; and fusion technology. And these are just the highlights.

In his January 2006 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush outlined a strategy to reduce America’s dependence on oil. The president’s Advanced Energy Initiative proposes a 22 percent increase in funding for clean energy research at the U.S. Department of Energy. This includes greater investment in solar and wind technologies, zero-emission coal-fired power plants, clean nuclear technology, and ethanol.

It is important that we not only develop clean energy technologies but also work to make them more affordable and accessible. That is why the U.S. government has spent more than $11.7 billion since 2001 to develop alternative energy sources. This funding has contributed to a dramatic reduction in the cost of renewable energy. As the costs of conventional energy rise, the private investment community is responding. In 2005, we saw $44 billion of new capital investment in renewable energy technologies in the electricity sector. Renewables now comprise approximately 20 to 25 percent of global power sector investment.

As we strive to develop new sources of energy, we are also working hard to reduce our energy consumption. A leading example of this effort is Energy Star, a U.S. government-backed program that helps businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. With the help of Energy Star, Americans saved enough energy in 2005 alone to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 23 million cars -- all while saving $12 billion on their utility bills, or 4 percent of the United States’ total annual electricity demand. 

Disseminating Technologies Through Public-Private Partnerships

Multi-stakeholder partnerships with governments, civil society, and the private sector are critical to addressing the energy challenge. The United States participates in a broad spectrum of partnerships with groups ranging from small American nongovernmental organizations building and demonstrating the use of simple solar cookers in African refugee camps to broader regional alliances such as the recently launched Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. This voluntary partnership with Australia, China, Japan, India, and South Korea -- countries that together with the United States represent over 50 percent of global energy use and greenhouse gas emissions -- has as its goal the accelerated deployment of cleaner, more efficient technologies and the meeting of partners’ respective national pollution reduction, energy security, and climate change objectives. The Asia-Pacific Partnership will engage stakeholders from key economic sectors as full partners in addressing clean development and climate issues in an integrated manner. 

In order to foster public-private alliances, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) created the Global Development Alliance in 2001. Through this innovative program, USAID has funded programs with nearly 400 alliances, with more than $1.4 billion in government funding leveraging more than $4.6 billion in partner resources.

The ultimate measure of the partnerships’ success is whether they deliver concrete, on-the-ground results. When we talk about measurable results, a really positive story is emerging from some of the partnerships launched almost four years ago at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. One example is the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, one of the four performance-based, market-oriented partnerships under President Bush’s Clean Energy Initiative, a multifaceted approach to addressing access to energy and improving energy efficiency and environmental quality. In 2002, leaded gasoline was used in all but one country in sub-Saharan Africa. By the end of 2005, with the assistance of the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, all 49 sub-Saharan African countries had stopped refining and importing leaded gasoline. This change will have a significant health impact on many of the 733 million people living in these countries

The United States is committed to transparent reporting on the partnerships in which we participate. Toward that end, we have created a Web site to provide continuously updated information on U.S. sustainable development partnership efforts.

Building Effective Policy and Regulatory Frameworks

One of the keys to disseminating clean-energy technologies is ensuring the development of markets to receive them. Effective policy and regulatory frameworks at the local and national levels are absolutely necessary to encourage the level of private-sector investment that will be needed in the coming decades. 

The U.S. government is making significant progress to build capacity throughout the developing world. From our work on providing reliable energy services in poor slum areas in India to setting rules for power trading in Southern Africa to improved public participation in energy sector decision-making globally, we are working with developing country ministries, utilities, and end-users to build the kind of institutional and market structures that will encourage investment in the energy sector. 

The United States is also proud to work with its G8 colleagues and a number of other partners on the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The EITI supports improved governance in resource-rich countries through the full publication and verification of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas, and mining.

Fostering Democratic Habits at the Grassroots Level

Increasing access to modern, clean, healthy, and efficient energy services can help lift people out of poverty and protect the environment. Perhaps equally important, the very act of providing energy services offers tremendous opportunities for communities to come together to learn and practice the fine art of democratic decision-making. 

The roots of strong democracies reach much deeper than the act of voting, resting on a foundation of social cohesion and participatory institutions. For the individual rural villager or urban slum dweller, the quest for energy services hinges on whether or not the institutions that serve the community are accountable to their constituency. Far too often, citizens’ needs are not fully incorporated into political decisions about who gets what, when, where, and how.

A number of innovative electrification initiatives across the globe are addressing this problem by fostering local community structures that can bridge the gap between households and service providers. For example, USAID supported an alliance in Ahmedabad, India, in which local nongovernmental organizations served as intermediaries, assisting slum dwellers with financing and acquiring the appropriate documentation regarding land ownership to make them eligible for legal electricity service. The results are impressive. In the pilot project, 820 households were upgraded from illegal and unreliable service to regularized electricity. The utility is now rolling out the program to an additional 115,000 poor urban households. In Salvador, Brazil, the utility COELBA has hired local “community agents” to work with the local citizens and community leaders to identify and resolve problems, as well as to provide education on energy conservation practices.  Thus far, COELBA has electrified more than 200,000 households. Building on this success, USAID and the U.S. Energy Association are supporting a South-South exchange between COELBA and Angolan electric utility EDEL.

By involving community intermediaries in electrification efforts, these programs are strengthening democratic habits at the grassroots level. They build trust, form social capital, and allow people to voice their concerns. In so doing, they not only connect customers to electricity but also enable citizens to learn what it means to participate in democratic processes. This experience and these newly formed skills can easily be applied to other aspects of social and political life, ultimately contributing to a stronger, more robust, and more secure democratic culture.  

Meeting the Challenge

The United States is pursuing a clean energy future that rises to the significant challenge before us. Our approach draws upon the best scientific research, harnesses the power of markets, fosters the creativity of entrepreneurs, and works with the developing world to meet our dual aspirations for vibrant economies and a clean environment.

Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.
Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov

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
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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
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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
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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.