Kentucky coal to liquid plan means more dirty fuel is on the way

There's only one energy source dirtier than coal-fired power plants and the oilsands: coal to liquid fuel. And today in Kentucky plans were announced for a $4 billion coal to liquid fuel plant.

The idea of converting coal to liquid fuel (known as coal-to-liquids or CTL) is not new.

In fact, the technology was developed in Nazi Germany during the 1930s to fill Hitler’s army vehicles with synthetic fuel derived from coal, since the country had lots of coal but no petroleum of its own.

The use of coal as a fuel for motor vehicles was further perfected by the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Suffice it to say, converting coal to liquid fuel has only been done in the most desperate of times.

The United States hasn’t placed much emphasis on coal to liquids in the past, due to our heavy reliance on petroleum products for transportation fuels. But as oil prices climb, along with gas prices at the pump, the idea of making motor fuels out of domestic coal has been advocated as a solution to our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Beyond the obvious implications of increased coal mining and hazardous pollution that would result from a coal-to-liquids scheme, using liquid coal as a transportation fuel would nearly double the amount of global warming pollution per gallon of fuel compared to petroleum.

At a time when the world’s leading scientists say we need to cut our emissions by at least 80 percent to curtail destructive climate change, the idea of nearly doubling global warming pollution from liquid coal fuels ought to be tossed aside as a no-brainer.

Furthermore, as NRDC points out, “it would be the height of folly to invest in just another technology that drives us further down the path to dependency on carbon fuels.”

Organizers say the plant will be environmentally friendly and use clean coal technology.

“We have to breathe the air like anyone else, and we don't want to do anything to the ozone. We don't want do damage it,” says Rutherford.

I won't hold my breath.

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I guess if these take off it would be a great time to invest in agriculture as with that much CO2 in the air crop yields are going to SOAR!

“…converting coal to liquid fuel has only been done in the mosy desperate of times.”

And with the world economy in the headlock of unstable theocracies these are desperate times indeed. In Canada, “we’re alright Jack” but, for the U.S., even this baby step towards energy independence would be a plus.

The fun and games, during the fat years, of pursuing fantasies of adjusting the earth’s thermostat have got to give way to solving the real problems of real live human beings.

The United States currently burns through about 20 million barrels of oil a day. The Kentucky coal to liquid plant is projected to produce 50,000 barrels a day - a far cry from any grand promise of energy independence.

Now what about investing that $4billion in energy efficiency projects instead? Or raising fuel efficiency standards for cars to at least the level that China currently has.

Well said, there is no single source replacement for fossil fuels. In order to achieve energy stability and independence a broad focused approach is needed, including efficiency, wind, solar, nuclear. So much could be accomplished with reduced consumption on its own, never mind alterative fuel supplies.

Thorium nuclear reactors.
Seemed like such a promising technology.

With clean reactors, natural gas, a bit of wind and a bit of solar (until the Isreali Solar technology is ready) and some efficiency advances, Energy could once again be abundant and affordable.
Then we could concentrate on solving problems like world hunger.

Solar advances from Isreal

I fully accept the “consensus” position on climate change, and I regard coal-to-liquid as a bad idea. But I do object to your guilt-by-association smear of the technology as one “developed in Nazi Germany” and “perfected by the apartheid regime in South Africa.”
Stale PR tricks like that just give ammunition to deniers. You guys are better than that.

The source for this is taken directly from the US Department of Energy's page on the History of Coal research:

Nothing derogatory, it is simply a fact that coal to liquid was developed by Nazi Germany as a desperate war measure and it has only been used in the past during very, very desperate times.

It's actually a very interesting story:

“The leaders of World War II, on both sides, knew that an army's lifeblood was petroleum. Ironically, before the War, experts had scoffed at Adolph Hitler's idea that he could conquer the world largely because Germany had almost no indigenous supplies of petroleum. Hitler, however, had begun assembling a large industrial complex to manufacture synthetic petroleum from Germany's abundant coal supplies.”


“then lets go with that reasoning”

The association of this (not new) technology and past regimes that have demonstrated a complete disregard for humanity only adds fuel to the fire (pun intended) - you missed the main point obviously:

liquid coal = 2X the pollution !

How do you get to “liquid coal = 2X the pollution !”

Seems like just am off the cuff unsubstantiated comment.
Do you have something to back that up?

I agree that this guilt by association with South Africa and Hitler’s Germany is no way to talk about this. I believe that in both of those regimes people actually fed milk to children as well.

The reason tar sand oil production or coal to liquid is criticized as even more polluting than conventional oil is you have to use so much energy to produce the barrel of oil. If it actually takes you a barrels worth of conventional oil equivalent energy to produce a barrel of oil from coal, then by the time you’ve burned the barrel, you’ve actually burned two, and it could be said to be twice as bad, potentially, from an emissions point of view, compared to some barrel of oil that spouted up out of the ground ready to use. If it weren’t for the climate implications it would not matter that much, it would just be another barrel of oil.

We’ve got to separate these things in our minds, i.e. fossil fuels, and the emissions caused by burning them in irresponsible ways. If you had no other way to generate electricity, all you had was coal, and you could not emit any carbon dioxide, you could do it.

This is why a carbon tax is such a good idea. If you had a very high carbon tax on emissions, everyone just does what they do in a normal market economy and emissions would disappear. That coal to liquids plant is a natural market response to economic conditions caused by the “invisible hand” of the market when there is a high price on oil, and no price on carbon emissions. Add a “visible” hand in the way of a carbon tax, and the combined “visible and invisible” hands working together will either stop that plant at the drawing board, or the liquids produced would be something that could be burned without emitting carbon to the atmosphere. Nothing else would make economic sense. No one would have to drag the Nazis into it.

I see no attempt at “guilt by association”, but rather the clear statement that “converting coal to liquid fuel has only been done in the most desperate of times”.

Liquid coal made with carbon sequestration can be as clean or cleaner than conventional oil fuels. Carbon sequestration has already been proven at Kinder Morgan in TX where over 1 billion cu ft of co2 is captured daily and pumped underground for permanent storage. We only have 50 years max left on the oil supply according to the DOE experts - less according to the worlds leading geophysicists. There will be 9 billion mouths to feed, and mass economic chaos will ensue long before that when the shortages hit. We need to exercise every available option to prolong the world’s survival. Ethanol can only supply 10%. Electric for everything is not feasible. Biodiesel is similar to ethanol. Both will add to food shortages. There is a 200 year coal supply that can take up the slack while sources like hydro phonic algae are developed. Liquid coal can be made with recycled water, and the land can be redeveloped into farms, forests, and lakes with minimal environmental damage – I have seen the photos of redeveloped coalmines.

Why the Price of Peak Oil is Famine