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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Coal-to-liquids - a dangerous substitute for foreign oil

The coal industry has been touting coal liquification as a viable gasoline replacement for years. The industry wants us to believe that since the US already has an abundance of cheap coal, coal liquification is the fastest and most cost effective way for us to achieve energy independence. This doesn't appear to be the case when you consider the cleaner alternatives and the true costs of liquid coal - the environmental costs. Carnegie Mellon's Electricity Industry Center recently came out with a report that concluded that passenger vehicles using coal to liquids gasoline had the worst greenhouse gas emissions, and that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles had the lowest GHG emissions.

As the chart below shows, the difference in the emissions isn't even close - plug-in hybrids, when charged by coal plans using carbon capture sequestering technology, had about 1/3 the the GHG emissions as a conventional gasoline vehicle, and roughly 20% of the emissions from a vehicle fueled by liquid coal gasoline.

So why do we continue to see more subsidies targeted to liquid coal companies and alternatives such as corn based E85 when there is so much evidence out there that these solutions are not safe and smart alternatives to foreign oil? Well, the subsides give our politicians an opportunity to suck up to two very powerful industry lobbies - coal and corn. If your congressman supports these two alternative fuels - he or she is not looking out for the best interests of their constituents. They are looking out for the corporate interests. Please write, email, or call your congressman and ask them if they support liquid coal or corn ethanol based fuels. If they do, please remind them that supporting these fuels will put us on a faster path to social and environmental destruction.

More on this at the Terrapass blog.

1 comment:

Rearden said...

With all due respect, I take issue with your assertion that 'the coal industry' embraces CTL fuels. This is simply not true.

The major organization pushing CTL is the Coal To Liquids Coalition (CTLC link)
a lobbying group which operates a website employing a blend of flag waving patriotism, protectionism and militaristic posturing to sell CTL technology as the curative for all that ails our energy base.

From this website, one might presume the coal industry to be jumping up and down for joy at the prospect of developing a new market for our products, but a quick scan of the contributors to this organization will disabuse the reader of any connection as there is not a single coal company listed. Those hoping to see this technology commercialized are mostly the people who will reap huge profits from the design, engineering, construction and operation of these plants- the same people who are showing up at town council and borough meetings across the heartland hawking corn-based as the curative for all that ails our energy base.

We in the coal industry are scratching our heads at CTL for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we are having a difficult time mining enough coal to support the existing, and growing, electrical generation capacity base, much less provide coal for this new demand market in CTL. Ramping up production is not feasible. Those promoting CTL refuse to accept this reality. Secondly, most of the coal reserve estimates used by the CTLC as an appeal to protectionist independence are based upon total coal in the ground, all of which could never be mined. They ignore this reality, too. Third, CTL plants are not proven at high production rates and scalability issues are conveniently absent from the positive benefit statements offered by the CTLC.

In short, we in the industry appreciate coal for what it is: secure, available, cheap and transportable. It is not perfect but it serves the world of electrical power generation well and that is probably where it should remain rather than being used as a raw material for a transformative technology to create something else. Reduction of petroleum consumption, as well as reduction of demand for electricity are far better steps toward reducing the incremental environmental impacts of our lifestyles than going through the exercise of CTL.

German energy consultants have increased fuel economy of VW cars through simple approaches such as weight reduction and perhaps this type of thinking would help us all. Read the VW article here.

No, the coal industry is not touting CTL and I hope that we remain visibly passive on this topic.