Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Coal Oil

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change notes that high oil prices are causing the Air Force to look at ways of capping the cost of jet fuel (basically high grade kerosene or diesel fuel).

Defence Industry Daily says that while combat simulators have their place, there is nothing like the real thing.

Another potential solution under investigation is the coal-to-jet-fuel initiative, similar to the efforts undertaken in World War II but requiring higher test fuels. A B-52 Stratofortress from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, ND, is scheduled for a test flight during September 2006 in which 2 of its 8 engines will run on a mixture of this synthetic fuel.

The United States has a coal reserve of about 500 billion tons according to the National Mining Association, and the coal-produced synthetics actually burn cleaner and emit less pollution than conventional jet fuel. Nevertheless, test results remain to be seen, the process as a whole will receive significant environmental scrutiny, and it's likely to take over a decade and tens of billions of dollars to create an infrastructure of synfuel plants.

Choices, choices... and depending on the future course of the global war and the global economy, these choices could get tighter still.
So not even counting our oil shale, we have just found a few hundred billion barrels of oil. Technology at your service.

Of course the basic technology is over 60 years old. It is called the Fischer-Tropsch process and was used extensively in Germany in WW2. The Republican and Herald of Pottsville, PA says:
Gasification has been in commercial use for more than 50 years as a process technology for the refining, chemical and power industries, but the industry has grown significantly since 1990, according to the Gasification Technologies Council, Arlington, Va.

Rich’s proposed plant will use Fischer-Tropsch Liquefaction Technology provided by Sasol Synfuels International Ltd., South Africa.

Shell Global Solutions U.S., Houston, will provide the gasifier, which will convert culm — coal waste that accents the topography of northern Schuylkill County — into syngas, a clear, zero-sulfer liquid that can be marketed for the production of jet fuel.

The project got a boost three years ago when Rich received a $100 million pledge from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Since then, Rich has been working to secure financing and environmental clearances from federal and state agencies.
Money in hand, a pressing need, and we are still waiting for the paper work to be completed.

In any case what this says is that we are not about to run out of liquid fuels any time soon, although the cost will be higher. We will have the time and resources to develop an income based energy system (wind, solar, biofuels etc.).

Think of what this means for China. A country with a lot of coal and not much oil and a ravenous demand for liquid fuels.

The process that will be used in America removes most of the sulfur from the fuel making it cleaner burning.

2 comments:

F. O. said...

IN THIS PROCESS, WHAT DO THEY DO WITH THE EXCESS CARBONDIOXIDE THAT IS THE CRUX OF THE TECHNOLOGY.

M. Simon said...

There is talk of sequestering the CO2.

OTOH it improves the growth rate of crops and trees and all kinds of plants.

So the best way to sequester CO2 may be just to plant more trees. Politically Kyoto ruled this method out. CO2 reduction must be done at the source not with sinks. Why? Well source reductions will cause problems for advanced economies (and Idia and China - except they are exempt). And Kyoto is a punish the advanced economies document - except that the advanced economies are ignoring it and the USA wisely never signed on.

America would probably have signed on had CO2 mitigation with sinks been allowed to meed CO2 reduction requirements.