Coal-to-liquids answer to US weaning: Report

A NEW study says coal-to-liquids technology could be the answer for the US to wean itself off foreign oil imports.

Angie Tomlinson

A new report published by Energy Business Reports – Commercialization of Coal to Liquids Technology 2007 – said given the large coal reserves in the US, coal-based fuels could rapidly replace other sources of transportation fuel to meet future needs.

Through CTL, a process of converting solid coal into liquid fuels and/or chemicals, coal can be made into liquid fuel such as gasoline or diesel and used as a substitute for petroleum products. Coal-based fuels can be used directly in today’s vehicles, with no need for modification.

Road trials of coal-based fuels have shown that significant local air quality improvements can be achieved through the reduction of tailpipe emissions.

Some studies suggest particulate emissions can be up to 75% less than with traditional diesel, and oxides of nitrogen can be reduced by up to 60%. The optimisation of new engines for these fuels will offer even greater reductions, particularly of nitrogen oxides. New engine design, such as direct injection, will offer yet greater efficiencies, the study said.

“While coal itself is a low efficiency fuel and a notorious polluter, advanced gasification technologies can convert over 95 percent of coal fuel into a combustible gas, commonly called syngas,” EBR said.

Syngas consists mainly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen and can be used like natural gas to efficiently generate electricity through an integrated gas turbine/steam turbine combined cycle. Syngas is also a basic feedstock for manufacturing a range of chemicals and synthetic fuels, such as hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, dimethyl ether, and Fischer-Tropsch gasoline and diesel, which can substitute for oil.

“The positive impacts of coal-based fuel include long-term environmental advantages ranging from the reclamation of decades-old coal waste piles and the mining of secondary coal sources, to possible ways to reduce hazardous emissions in coal combustion,” EBR said.

Energy Business Reports looks at the various technologies and methodologies for liquefying coal, the economics of CTL development, key players in the global market, the advantages and disadvantages of liquid coal, and the market outlook for CTL as a fuel source.

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