Chevron Funds Research on Polyols from Biomass as Intermediate Step to Hydrocarbon Fuels
RITE Develops Cellulosic Biobutanol for Blending in Diesel Fuels

DOE and Conoco-Phillips Fund Research on Conversion of Coal-Derived Syngas to Ethanol

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and Conoco-Phillips are providing US$2.9 million in funding for a research effort by Louisiana State University, Clemson University and Oak Ridge National Laboratories to convert coal-derived syngas to ethanol. (Earlier post.)

The coal-derived syngas will be produced using Conoco-Phillips’ EGAS technology. James Goodwin, Chairman of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering department at Clemson, and David Bruce, Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Clemson, are using advanced computational methods to identify new catalysts and test them with techniques such as isotopic labeling.

James Spivey, McLaurin Shivers professor of chemical engineering at LSU, and LSU doctoral students Femi Egbebi and Nachal Subramanian are carrying out research in the preparation and testing of these catalysts, determining which ones produce the desired results.

Challa Kumar, group leader of nanofabrication at LSU’s Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices (CAMD) is in charge of designing and synthesizing novel nano-structured catalysts using wet-chemical synthesis capabilities available at CAMD in addition to utilizing synchrotron radiation-based X-ray absorption spectroscopy tools. Nanomaterials having unique core-shell architecture that are currently under development at CAMD are anticipated to enhance ethanol production significantly.

Steve Overbury and Viviane Schwarz at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory will test new catalysts with their specialized equipment while Joe Allison and Vis Viswanathan at Conoco-Phillips will analyze the costs and commercial potential of the overall process.

We’re working with our project partners to produce ethanol from a coal-derived syngas, a mixture of primarily carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The United States has tremendous reserves of coal, but converting it to affordable, clean fuels is a challenge – one that we are addressing in this DOE-funded project. Because ethanol is a liquid, it can be more easily distributed to the end user than gaseous hydrogen. It can be converted into a hydrogen-rich gas at the point of use, such as a fuel cell. The net result is clean energy produced from a domestic resource. The DOE is definitely interested in seeing a commercial project come out of this.

—James Spivey



There appears to be a lot of research going on to find ways to continue using the ICE, especially among the oil companies. They will do anything to continue to control the fuel prices at the pump. Even if it means using coal oil and converting it to ethanol. In this example you can bet far more energy is used from well to wheel to convert the coal to ethanol than would ever be used with other feed stock like sugarcane, corn and switchgrass. Makes more sense to run PHEVs and BEVs, instead of ICEs, and charge 'em through the grid by burning coal. Not dirty coal! clean coal with scrubbers and CO2 capture. That's where the money should be up the current grid power generation processes. And, money should be spent on bringing clean solar, wind, and water energy on line.


Is ethanol the best type of liquid fuel to create from coal? It doesn't transport very well from what I hear.


So E85 from the pump can come from coal? Whats the point? Oh yeah, reduce petroleum import, national security thingy.


The clean diesel produced from coal derived synthesis gas through the Fischer-Tropsch process (and using co2 sequestration)is ready for use now.

The US should be changing ALL it's coal plants to coal gasification and using the non-peak syngas for fuel production. The electric industry is using all the tricks of the oil and tobacco industries to prevent that from happening.

Just search "gasification" here on the GCC website and see how much information you get.


CTL isn't a good idea on national-security grounds.  The USA is producing more lower-quality coal as better supplies run out, so as tonnage is going up the energy yield is going down.  Adding CTL just jeopardizes the supply of fuel for electricity.


While coal-to-ethanol is obviously not the greenest choice, it's a good thing they develop the technology to produce liquid fuels from syngas. The now-developed process could be used with syngas from biofuel or any carbon-rich waste. If (green) hydrogen is added to the syngass, even more liquid fuel could be made out of it. If no hydrogen is added, the waste CO2 from the biofuel-derived syngas could be sequestered, inducing a net sequestration of carbon while producing liquid hydrocarbons.


Okay, but why use a non-renewable, toxic feedstock to make something that can be produced in a bathtub from fruit? Looks like oil is getting desperate to find ways to maintain out of date technology. Ethanol can be made from nearly any biomass by simple fermentation. It's not even bi-plane science. Lad is correct - better to clean up the grid - where the real action is.


If we could grow enough fruit to run a world full of SUVs, we'd be home free.  Unfortunately, the USA can only grow about 15% of the corn to run what we've got.


Very nice post…I made a second glance on this site while I was searching for my Honda spoiler, the topics were very interesting and informational…


If they can turn coal syngas into ethanol, they should be able to turn biomass syngas into ethanol. There is a company in Colorado that has a method to do just that. Funding these companies has become imperative and one absolute necessity that has been in short supply.


For latest stories and news on ethanol, biofuels and climate, please visit:

The comments to this entry are closed.