Plugging the Plug-In Hybrid
F500 Company Buys Electric Versions of Mini Cooper and Smart Car

Senate Approves Creation of National Coal-to-Liquids Development Plan

The Senate has approved the preparation of a national coal-to-liquids development program.

Proposed by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) as an amendment to the Senate’s just-passed defense appropriations bill (S.1042), the language calls for the Department of Energy to prepare a development plan for the national coal-to-liquids program within 90 days of the enactment of the bill and for the Department of Defense to prepare a report on the potential use of the resulting synthetic fuels.

The development plan is to consider:

  • Technology needs and developmental barriers;

  • Economic and national security effects;

  • Environmental standards and carbon capture and storage opportunities;

  • Financial incentives;

  • Timelines and milestones;

  • Diverse regions having coal reserves that would be suitable for liquefaction plants;

  • Coal-liquid fuel testing to meet civilian and military engine standards and markets; and

  • Any roles other Federal agencies, State governments, and international entities could play in developing a coal-to-liquid fuel industry.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) is promoting a Clean Fuel Initiative that would support the development of domestic synthetic fuels from resources such as oil shale and coal with the intention of eventually running its battlefield machinery with them. (Earlier post.)

The US military currently consumes some 300,000 barrels of transportation fuel per day—75% of which is produced in US refineries.

The OSD Clean Fuels Initiative has two primary approaches:

  • Total Energy Development Program: to catalyze the commercial production of fuels from alternative resources—i.e., unconventional and synthetic.

  • Battlefield Use Fuel of the Future (BUFF) Program: to evaluate, demonstrate, certify turbine fuels from alternative energy resources for use in tactical vehicles, aircraft and ships.

The latter program has focused a great deal on Fischer-Tropsch fuels, and has amassed some interesting test data. (Such as a 96% reduction at idle, 78% reduction at cruise in PM emissions from jets burning a FT variant of JP-8.)

Argonne National Laboratory is planning to expand its Well-to-Wheel analyses of the greenhouse gas, criteria emissions and energy impacts of different fuel pathways with a Coal-to-Liquids analysis next year.




Any program that encourages the use of coal is simply unacceptable. Even if one sequesters it all, which is not clearly possible, and possibly dangerous, this will just make us complacent and encourage business as usual with respect to easy motoring, as Kunstler calls it. We are desperately trying every scheme imaginable to keep this joy ride going --- headed for the cliff of global warming.


Somebody had better check my arithmetic and my assumptions. If burning a ton of lignite produces 3 metric tons of CO2, and 2.5 tons of lignite are needed to make 1 barrel or 159 litres of oil, I get 3 X 2.5 X 1000 / 159 = 47 kilos.

That is the well-to-tank CO2 output of CTL is 47 kg/litre. The claimed EROI of around 30 for petroleum fuels suggests that up til now well-to-tank CO2 has been less than 0.1 kg/litre. This is before the tank-to-wheels (ie driving) CO2 output of standardised fuels of around 2.5 kg/litre.

In other words using a litre of CTL creates nearly 50 kgs of CO2 versus around 2.5 for petroleum fuel, a 'dirt factor' of about 20. Have I made a mistake somewhere?


"Battlefield Use Future Fuel of the Future"? Did the Department of Redundancy Department come up with that one?


OSD proofreaders must have missed that one and I skipped over it too. It's Battlefield Use Fuel of the Future.


Aussie, CTL is worse than gasoline, but not by a factor of 20. The Princeton paper gets into some fairly detailed calculations for direct and indirect liquefaction.

Bottom line is an estimated 1.6 to 1.9 times the GHG emission rate for gasoline for direct liquefaction (DCL), and 1.8 times for indirect (ICL)(Fischer-Tropsch).

Estimates range from about 34.61 to 44.48 kg of carbon per GJ for the production of CTL from various techologies, compared to 25.56 kg C/GJ (LHV) or 23.93 kg C/GJ (HHV basis) for the fuel cycle of gasoline.

But unlike the situation for DCL technologies there are system configurations where H2S + CO2 co-capture/co-storage as an acid gas management strategy offers fuel-cycle GHG emission rates significantly lower than for petroleum crude oil-derived fuels, prospectively at synthetic fuel costs that are less than for system configurations in which the CO2 is vented.

In other words, there might be significant opportunities for GHG mitigation with some ICL options, even in the absence of an explicit climate change mitigation policy, as an ancillary benefit of an acid gas management strategy involving co-capture/co-storage.

An appreciation of this counter-intuitive finding requires some understanding of energy and material balances and costs for making fuels via ICL...

Which the paper then goes on to detail.

So, bottom line at this point, both DCL and ICL "out of the box" are worse than petroleum with respect to GHG, but ICL has more room for mitigation, at least according to the Princeton analysis.

We'll see what the Argonne folks come up with.


Does anyone have a sense for what the cost per gallon of gasoline derived from this process is/would be?


Thanks Mike. I've downloaded the Princeton paper and I'll try to reconcile it with my inputs vs outputs approach. I have to say some of it seems way too upbeat. I notice the plants are going into countries like China and the US that don't have Euro style carbon taxation. If these plants don't live up to the Princeton benchmarks what then I wonder.


So it takes 2.5 tonnes of Coal to produce 1 barrel (42 gallons?) of oil? Doesn't a ton of coal cost about $60 these days (I seem to remember reading that somewhere, perhaps I'm off base)? If that's true then the raw material for this is $150/barrel. That's not including the production costs. How can this be cost competetive?

tom deplume

Last that I read was Wyoming coal was about $20/ton which works out to $50/bbl as you figure it. I also read about conversion process that uses a bioreactor to produce 200 gal of ethanol per ton of coal. That works out to $4/bbl of ethanol. At least that's what the company claimed.


Silly people its been said that the cost to convert shale to oil is 25 bucks a barrel the cost to convert coal to oil is 15. THUS as long as oil is over 40 a barrel shale nets 15 bucks a barrel profits and coal 25 a barrel.

These figures are what it costs the compnaies currently to do it and yes they are finding even cheaper ways to do it thats why all the shale and coal plants are popping up.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)