Coal, Liquids, and Costs

I’ve spent a day or two chasing after an assertion that “Coal To Liquids” was economical at present oil prices. Last I had looked into it, the economical point was about $70 / barrel of oil price. That itself was down from the $80 to $90 of prior years. Since oil has been running about $90 / bbl lately, all of those would seem to be “economical”, but oil companies like to make a big fat profit; not be just marginally hanging on. Then there is the fact that oil price can swing rapidly sometimes far into the low end. Just recently it had run down to about $70 on the economic recession.

The assertion I was chasing was that it had been economical since about 1994 and had stayed that way ever since.

Richard S. Courtney had made that assertion in a couple of comments. At Jonova’s and at WUWT which I’d seen.

A comment down near the bottom:

Richard S Courtney
November 26, 2010 at 8:52 pm


At #54 you ask (I think me):

The question is what would the comparative cost be to produce diesel & kerosene as opposed to traditional refining of crude? What comparative environmental costs are associated with surface or in ground gassification prior to liquefaction?
And on a different level:- If the costs are comparable or less, what does this mean for the geo-political balance of the world? (& big oil).

Wow! Those questions are far, far too big for an adequate answer here, but I will provide some responses.

The most important fact concerning these issues is the existence of the novel liquid solvent extraction (LSE) process. LSE has been capable of converting coal to synthetic crude oil (syncrude) at competitive cost to crude oil since 1994.

The LSE process was developed by the Coal Research Establishment (CRE) of British Coal (aka the National Coal Board: NCB). I worked on its development while at CRE and UNESCO commissioned a paper about it from me. We proved the process both technically and economically with a demonstration plant built and operated at Point Of Ayr in North Wales.

British Coal was owned by the UK government and ownership of the LSE process devolved to the government when the government abolished British Coal. There are good reasons why details of the LSE process are a state secret (see below), but the basic method is as follows.

LSE dissolves the coal in a solvent in an ebullating bed at high temperature and pressure. The solution includes hydrogen (obtained from coal and water by a ‘water gas shift’) that combines with the dissolved coal to form syncrude in the presence of a zeolite catalyst. The proportions of the various hydrocarbons (i.e. oil fractions) in the resulting syncrude are ‘tuned’ by adjusting the temperasture and pressure while the hydrogenation of dissolved coal occurs. Reducing the temperature and pressure causes the syncrude to come out of solution, and the solvent is returned to the start of the process for reuse.

The surprising economics of LSE are provided by its abilities to be tuned to provide syncrude that provides a match of refinery products which match market demand, and to consume sulphurous refinery bottoms.

An oil refinery separates crude oil into its component parts for sale. These components must match market demand: obtaining a correct amount of one fraction (e.g. kerosene) must not provide too little or too much of any other fraction (e.g. benzene). Disposal of an excess of a fraction has disposal cost and a shortage of a product causes market difficulties. This match to market demand is achieved by blending. Crude oils from different places has different proportions of components. So, an oil refinery obtains crude oils from different places, mixes them together such that the resulting blend consists of components that match market demand when they are separated by refining.

Blending has costs. Different crudes have to be obtained from different places then transported to the refinery and mixed in correct proportions. LSE product does not have these costs because the LSE process can be tuned to provide syncrude which has components that match market demand when they are separated by refining.

Crude oil contains sulphur that forms sulphurous ‘bottoms’ in the refinery process. Disposal of these ‘bottoms’ is expensive. But sulphur is removed from the syncrude during the LSE process and becomes part of a solid cake consisting mostly of ash minerals and some carbon (LSE converts more than 98% of the carbon in the coal to syncrude). The cake can be burned as fuel in a fluidised bed, and the sulphur then collected can be converted to saleable gypsum as a product. Hence, the oil refinery obtains no sulphurous ’bottoms’ when refining the syncrude.

The UK government owns the LSE process. But the UK produces little coal (because it closed its coal industry) and produces crude oil. Importantly, the UK produces Brent crude that has high value because it blends with Saudi crude (i.e. the cheapest crude). The required Saudi:Brent blend has approximate proportions of 2:1).

Use of the LSE process would collapse the value of Brent crude with resulting severe harm to the UK economy. So, details of the LSE process are a UK state secret.

However, the existence of the LSE process constrains the maximum price of crude oil. If the price were to rise sufficiently then the UK would benefit from release for use of the LSE technology.

In the future (at least 50 years and probably more than 100 years in the future), oil will become scarce if it continues to be used. In that circumstance crude oil supplies would become very expensive. The LSE product could be adopted as a replacement for crude oil. But the world will then be a very different place, so there is no purpose in considering what may/could/would then happen.

I hope this answer is sufficient.


The LSE process is a very good one, but not the only one, and there are others just about as good. One need not be constrained by the British Government and LSE ownership. I also note that Richard glosses over the ability of cat cracking and reforming to adjust to the kind of crude. In the USA, Valero in particular, put in many such units to be able to handle very heavy sour crude without ‘blending’. So blending is one method, but there are others in use as well. As Saudi “light sweet” runs out and they start selling more ‘heavy sour’ from their other wells, many refineries will need to add desulphurizing and cracking units.

Cut To The Chase

In the end, I found the answer in a paper that looks mostly like it is a plea for more R&D funding for an R&D organization. It seems mostly to be giving a laundry list of accomplishments, and one of them is coal to liquids. The price they assert is an eye opener. Realize this paper is from June 1996, so almost 17 years ago. Crude oil prices have moved on since then.

Coal liquefaction is not economically viable at current oil prices. However, economic modelling studies indicate that the LSE process is a lower cost route than competing technologies. Although a wide range of assumptions is necessary, it has the potential to be commercially viable at a crude oil price as low as $25/barrel in favourable circumstances. The abilities to process low-grade coals and to integrate with existing oil refinery operations give it a very large potential market, both in Europe and worldwide. By way of indication, a commercial scale plant processing 5 million tonnes/year of coal would meet only about 0.5% of current European transport fuel demand.

Similarly, substantial effort has been deployed in the research, development and demonstration of the British Gas/Lurgi slagging gasifier. The technology, which is based on the development of the conventional fixed-bed gasifier so that the coal ash is rejected as molten slag, is now commercially available. Whilst initially developed for the manufacture of SNG, it is considered particularly suitable also for use in Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant for power generation.

Yes, it has a lot of ‘weasel words’ around that price. So double it. Anyone think we are looking at $50 / bbl oil any time soon? Or triple it. How about $75 / bbl oil? Especially in Europe? You could make a case that the US shale oil and fracking will end up with US oil prices dropping. (We had been down to about $90 when Europe was still up at $120 due to there not being any export pipeline route to get the WTI over to Brent land…)

In other words, even if that price estimate is wildly wrong, it is now economical to convert coal to gasoline and Diesel fuels and has been for a while. One can only wonder if that is part of the reason oil companies and OPEC are funding some of the “Global Warming” scare. The process produces about twice as much CO2 per gallon of refined fuels. One of the few things that could keep commercialization of that coal source energy out of competition would be the CO2 released. (Anyone who thinks “Big Oil” is on the side of the skeptics has no clue about Big Oil.)

So for at least 15 years now the world has sat on a working technology for converting coal to oil products at economical prices. The LSE process is “owned” by the U.K. government who want to protect BP British Petroleum. While it has some advantages, there are a great many related processes that will not be significantly different in costs. It would not be hard to use them, instead.

This paper details them (as of about 2000 A.D.) and there are many.

The UK has that LSE process. Japan has their favored process, as do a couple of other countries. The USA has 3 or 4. (That is not counting the various companies that have proprietary variations on one of these, such as Rentech or Syntroleum). They have a major division into ‘direct’ v.s. ‘indirect’ liquefaction; then divide into many minor variations. For the “indirect” process, the coal is turned into ‘synthesis gas’ first, then catalytically reformed. That is, it is partly burned with water vapor to give CO and H2 gasses that are then combined into various chemicals. Depending on the catalysts and conditions, you can get anything from methanol to Dimethyl Ether (DME) to gasoline, Diesel, kerosene, waxes and greases. This is the process in production now in South Africa at Sasol and used by Rentech in the USA today to make fertilizers.

Direct liquifaction is not in production. That seems a bit odd after reading that paper since it is more efficient and has a lower price point. There are a variety of direct liquifaction process diagrams in the paper. They mostly differ in type of reactor (fixed bed, counter flow, fluidized, …) and the exact arrangement of various distillation and separation steps. Mostly the process consists of using an organic solvent (oils) with added high pressure hydrogen gas (often from a ‘water shift’ reaction like that coal gassification step above). Incoming coal is pulverized, mixed into that hot oil with hydrogen, and cooked in a reactor. That ‘stuff’ is then separated into gases (excess hydrogen being recycled to the start – hydrocarbon gasses to ‘product’), light organics (think gasoline to jet fuel and Diesel), and a heavy solvent (bunker fuel oil) that gets recycled to the start of the process to convert more coal. At the end of the process, there are a combination of atmospheric and / or vacuum distillation steps to make the various product streams. Exactly where you put the various reactors and distillation plus recycle streams makes up most of the differences in the processes.

After reading it all, to me it looks like they will have some variation in output product and costs, but ought not to be dramatically different. (That is, all of them ought to work and be ‘close’ in price. So $30 to $50 / bbl break even, not $100+.)

Which just leaves me wondering why we don’t see folks building these today. Yes, it has only been a few years since the economic chrisis. Yes, it’s been ‘trendy’ to believe in the evil Global Warming. But places like China and Russia have not been particularly shy about thumbing their noses at The West, while Japan has zero natural oil and a large chemical industry to feed. Even if just for the chemical feed stock I would have expected them to be doing something. (And, in fairness, they did do a lot of R&D and have their own ‘mix’ of the process.) To me, it looks like a mix of the low oil prices of the ’80s coupled with the Global Warming scare. As late as the ’90s we had cheap oil and low gasoline prices. ( I remember ‘under a buck’ a gallon in the 1990s and speculating that the gasoline was so cheap as they needed to make kerosene to excess for the “war machine” and the gasoline had to go somewhere….)

So I’d speculate that the “oughties” have just not been enough time for high oil prices to induce anyone to building.

That, BTW, is my major complaint about our governmental approach to all this. They just let oil price volatility drive our economy into boom / bust cycles and bleed $Billions to OPEC. It could be as simple as a ‘flexible tariff’ to fix it. Given those above cost points, that price would be about $80 / bbl. So we put up a tariff. POS( $80-$LandedPrice ) = Tariff. If the landed price is $70, the tariff is $10 (putting in place a price floor of $80). If the landed price is $100, the -$20 fails the test for positive value and the tariff is $zero. Doing nothing. So at any oil price under $80 / bbl, their is a stabilizing price floor of $80 that encourages domestic producers to stay in business. ( I would apply the tariff only to OPEC oil, as they are the only ‘swing producers’ who can damage the price floor and are themselves a price fixing cartel. This keeps Mexican and Canadian oil inside the tent…) At any price over $80 / bbl, the tariff costs nothing.

This price floor guarantee would assure that domestic producers of alternatives didn’t have to worry about OPEC crashing prices and bankrupting them. Yet, as oil has rarely been below $80/bbl lately, does not increase prices to the average consumer. (Which is likely why this plan will never be adopted. The “Green Nazis” will hate that it doesn’t discourage oil use, while the Political Masters will hate that they don’t get a bucket of tax money to spend. It only works for the citizens and producers…)

Back On CTL

I was a bit surprised at the overall efficiencies of some of the Coal To Liquids processes. Mostly I’ve looked at the ‘indirect’ ones that go through gassification. They can be a bit low on thermal efficiency but do work well for combined chemicals and fuels production. What surprised me was how efficient the ‘direct’ conversion could be. 60% to 70% conversion to liquids:

The total distillate product yield is in the range 60-65% (dry ash-free coal) most of which boils below 300 °C

Or further down on a “Lummus Crest Co-Processing” method (that converts coal and tar as from tar sands at the same time) we have:

The overall conversion of heavy material in the petroleum residue is 70-80%. The total net yield of distillable products is in the range 50-55% on fresh feed.

And the Alberta Research Council method:

The conversion of the coal depends primarily on the coal characteristics, but conversions of up to 98% on dry, ash-free coal can be obtained in some cases.

The amount of coal and tar sands in the world dwarfs the amount of oil. This effectively extends the availability of “oil products” for a couple of hundred years. (The limiting factor being coal mining for electricity generation as that uses far more coal; so will drive the consumption curve.) We are talking many Trillions of barrels of oil equivalent in tar sands alone. Coal more than that. (About 1/4 of the USA sits above coal deposits).

Coal in the USA

Coal in the USA

The only rational thing for a government “By The People” to do would be to start a steady construction of just such Coal To Liquids facilities. Much as building them in South Africa brought an end to supply disruptions there, it would act as a market stabilizing force. A discipline to OPEC manipulations.

(The oil bbl is 42 US Gallons or about 35 Imperial / 159 L so at $2 / gallon US you would have a $84 bbl. So a $1/gallon refining costs still leaves $42 for the ‘crude’ and that is well above the lower bound of cost listed above. As a ‘rough estimate’, prices at the pump should be lower than at present in the USA. Far lower than in Europe.)

That we are not doing it argues for exactly one thing. It argues for just how much our governments are in the pocket of large monied interests and uninterested in “We the People”. At the kinds of prices listed in these articles, we can manufacture gasoline and Diesel fuel for about $2 / gallon. Even with present gas taxes in the USA, that would be below $3 / gallon at the pump. Including profit for the industry along the way. Somebody is creaming off the price above that point, and that ‘someone’ does not want the price lower…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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60 Responses to Coal, Liquids, and Costs

  1. adrianvance says:

    I recall reading of $70 per barrel for the Fischer-Trophs (sp?) process that was developed in Germany and with which the Nazis make most of their petroleum after we ran them out of Italy and the Adriatic Sea countries. It is essentially a “hard distillation,” (high temperature) and the costs are in the fuel used to distill it and the manufacture of the high pressure vessels required.

    Come see us at The Two Minute Conservative, and when you speak ladies will swoon and liberal gentlemen will weep.

  2. Roger Sowell says:

    Good article, E.M. Mr. Courtney is, as usual, talking far beyond his expertise, this time on oil refining. You are quite correct that refineries crack and reform molecules to make the desired products.

    Re why no large CTL plants are being built, it is due to the fear that OPEC will crash oil prices.

    I advocated the US build CTL in my speeches on oil:

    All the best,


  3. Roger Sowell says:

    In essence, build CTL in the US, dare OPEC to drop oil prices, and watch global economies roar with low-cost oil.

    CTL should be a national priority, as the Apollo program was in the 60s.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @Roger Sowell:

    Just think where we would be if either the $Trillions spent on stupid oil wars OR the $Trillion+ of “stimulus money” had been spent on CTL facilities… Low cost fuels, stable economy, lots of construction jobs, cash NOT going to OPEC, …

  5. Jim Bender says:

    Obviously, the issue is someone with money to spend to shut down coal to oil production. I tend to blame the radical environmentalists, but it could be any of the competitors (Big Oil, Saudis, etc).

  6. crosspatch says:

    The cake can be burned as fuel in a fluidised bed, and the sulphur then collected can be converted to saleable gypsum as a product.

    Not sure there’s any market for that anymore. Most of the gypsum is now coming from China. US Gypsum just closed the mine at Empire, Nevada and laid everyone off. Since they also owned the town itself, with the exception of the store along route 447, the town is gone.

    Just think where we would be if either the $Trillions spent on stupid oil wars OR the $Trillion+ of “stimulus money” had been spent on CTL facilities… Low cost fuels, stable economy, lots of construction jobs, cash NOT going to OPEC …

    Which would set the enviro-commies into a fit. We must not “burn” anything directly to produce energy. We must build an extremely expensive and very fragile generation infrastructure that can’t even survive a typical hurricane using materials purchased from China.

  7. John Robertson says:

    And the blowing to and kissing of Oil Sheiks will continue.
    Rodger Sowell is correct, calling OPEC’s bluff would be interesting and potentially beneficial.
    The constant interference by our regulatory class has distorted the market to almost chaos,
    CNG is a wonderful transport fuel inside cities, electricity is a poor choice for heat and coal to fuel works well.
    The problem is the way the rug gets pulled on any long term investment, if an alternate becomes successful,oil prices drop and the investors get creamed.
    Is a national priority possible, with voluntary resources?As opposed to command planning from bureau central?
    As for the people profiting from and promoting the current status quo, well washington is booming.
    Whatever the party name, it seems the price is the same.
    Corruption is treason, but how do you restrain this behaviour when the watchdogs are more corrupted than the elected representatives?
    I suspect the draconian punishment for corrupt public officials from our past, was based on the knowledge of how insidious a corrupt society is.
    The ship is sinking because of this behaviour, but everyone entrusted with the ship is part of the problem,they have fired the crew, hired more bands and sold the pumps as they ram onto the shoals, how does a political system designed for group cooperation or wisdom, correct, when the group is the problem?
    Do we accept, got to go along, to get along?

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @John Robertson:

    Well, for starters, the Fed Govt was supposed to be very limited, to about 5% of GDP or LESS.

    We could start there…


    well, if we were doing better due to lower fuel costs we would likely need some gypsum board …


    My “flexible Tariff” is exactly to fix the OPEC Price Crash problem. It prevents a price crash while having no impact on prices when they are high. (That is, nobody is taxed if prices spike up so it doesn’t add damage to a bad time. When prices drop, it puts a floor on price to prevent an OPEC raid. Doing it on a NAFTA border keeps Canadian and Mexican oil ‘inside’ so they don’t get any yo-yo impact either.)

  9. Peter Offenhartz says:

    It is also worth looking into Sasol, the South African company, which has an efficient process for converting natural gas to liquid fuels. Last I heard they were about to build a large plant in Louisiana.

  10. adolfogiurfa says:

    Hydrogen from water is cheaper….

  11. BobN says:

    The US Military uses Synthetic fuel and fuel from coal, but it is banned for the ordinary citizens use.

    The day after it was announced that the tests were successful using the fuel fror the military Jets a bill was RUSHED through congress banning it for ordinary usage.

  12. tchannon says:

    As I recall it is CH4 which is the worrying item for oil producers.

    Sowell (above) is correct this is a high stakes risk game. The risk of spending on plant in the face of a predatory oil supplier but on the other hand if that is done catastrophe theory bites, once the plant is there the threshold has changed more or less permanently putting the oil producer in a difficult position.

  13. E.M.Smith says:


    Do you have a cite for the particular law? That’s one heck of an indictment / smoking gun…

    From that second link:

    There are two central imperatives for this change in US strategic policy. The first imperative is simply cost, since at this time synthetic crude oil based fuels cost around half of natural crude oil based fuels, per barrel. Given the enormous fuel burn of the US military machine, of which the US Air Force consumes the lion’s share, there is a huge fiscal incentive to abandon legacy crude oil based products.

    It’s one thing for me to play with some numbers and say “I think it is cheaper”; quite another to see it in print directly….

    This is just so wrong.

    But at least it looks like the USAF has their head on straight:

    Michael A. Aimone, the US Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics, recently commented ‘Our goal is by 2025 to have 70 percent of our aviation fuel coming from coal-based sources’. This is an aggressive but clearly very achievable planning goal.

    With the success of the trials performed using the B-52H, the US Air Force is now looking at other aircraft types to be certified to fly on a 50/50 blend of natural and synthetic kerosene. The next candidate is likely to be the C-17A Globemaster, another heavy consumer of fuel. It is likely that the prioritisation applied to certification will be ordered by aggregate fleet fuel consumption.

    Australia not so much…

    The strategic issues for Australia are arguably the very same as they are for the US – security of imported fuel supplies and cost per barrel. Most of the aviation turbine fuel burned in Australia is sourced from domestic refineries, made from imported crude feedstock, while the remainder is imported, mostly from Singapore. Any major disruption to the global supply chain could severely impact Australia’s economy, and the ADF’s capacity to conduct high tempo military operations. With potential ADF fuel burns of thousands of tonnes per day, diesel and aviation kerosene supply is a potential hard bound on ADF capabilities, regardless of the issue of having a proper resupply infrastructure. The latter is an equally neglected issue in Canberra.

    In terms of reserves of coal and gas per capita, Australia is actually in a much stronger position than the US is, especially in natural gas where Australia’s recent global ranking of fifteenth is set to with another round of North West Shelf gas discoveries.

    Not surprisingly, the synthetic fuels industry in Australia is virtually non existent. The only effort of significance at this time is Linc Energy’s joint program in Queensland, conducted with US synthetic fuels technology house Syntroleum, to trial synthetic crude manufacture from feedstock gas produced using Linc’s underground coal to gas conversion process. This malaise is despite Asutralia’s good track record in research, including the successful trials at Monash University many years ago.

    I found it interesting that they talked about a Russian system for underground gassification by setting a coal seam on fire then adding water. Leaves me wondering if we could take some of those rogue coal seam fires and turn them into synthesis gas generators…

  14. DirkH says:

    If you piss off the Saudis the USD stops being the reserve currency of the world in an instant.

    That’s why.

  15. Tim Clark says:

    About to be built:

    DKRW Advanced Fuels LLC’s coal-fueled industrial gasification and liquefaction facility to be built near Medicine Bow, Wyo., took a big step forward Dec. 1 when the company announced it had secured a contract to sell 100% of the proposed plant’s gasoline production.

    At my job, we are working with a company called BeneTerra, to reprocess the salt water and drilling fluids, etc. coming from fracked oil wells into the Mississippian here in Harper County, KS. They’ve been pioneering strategy up in Wyoming with this DKRW and other Cos in R & D for reuse of the water from CTL and C to methane.

  16. agimarc says:

    Alaska has a significant amount of coal, perhaps as much as the rest of the nation. Link to a 399 page BLM pdf from 1987 follows. Takes a while to load.

    The local CTL / GTL guys are using around $40/bbl as the break even cost. In building such a plant, you are essentially building a refinery, and those things are very expensive especially when you have to fight the feds daily on permitting issues.

    Some of us are looking at GTL / CTL as a Plan B possible solution to a $40B natural gas pipeline from the Alaska North Slope. First, there is no stable market for the product that the rest of the world is not there first, and second nobody has a spare $40B to spend. OTOH, producing synthetic diesel and batch shipping it down the existing infrastructure (TAPS) is possible, with the target market being the Pacific Rim (both sides). Product meets all CA / Left Coast clean fuel standards.

    Synthetic diesel is an interesting product, as it fills a lot of needs. All petroleum based liquid fuels are a mix of molecule lengths. A GTL / CTL plant can produce a specific molecule size. And properly sized, this single product can be used as diesel, AvGas, JP-8, kerosine, Jet-A and RP-1.

    Problem with a GTL / CTL plant is that it produces a tremendous amount of CO2 as part of the cracking reaction. That gas needs to be captured and controlled. Running one (or several) of these in conjunction with a major, depleting oil field allows the use of CO2 to pressurize the wells and enhance production (essentially what they are using natural gas to do today).

    The construction of product needs extra hydrogen to populate the molecule chains, so anything that can produce extra hydrogen will in turn enhance production. The final reaction is also exothermal, meaning you get a LOT of additional heat that you can do something with. One of the proposals for a local CTL plant, 80k bbl/day synthetic diesel in Cook Inlet across from Anchorage suggests that they may be able to produce 350 MW of electricity by running that heat thru turbines.

    Problem with this here in Alaska is that Coal is the latest on a long tiresome list of fundamental evils of mining, and every single coal-related proposal has been fought tooth and nail by the greens. Sooner or later, these vampire hunters are going to run out of wooden stakes to use.

    Still, the concept has some real interest with the state legislature. Problem is that there may not be enough companies capable of building these things that are not busy doing this elsewhere – which puts you immediately into a bidding war for their services.

    Great idea and one that I expect we will see in the not so distant future. Cheers -

  17. BobN says:

    @ EM Smith – It looks like much has changed from what I remember about the Air force effort. It appears that Congress banned it for everyone. The timeline on all this needs sorting, I need to do more looking but a few interesting links regarding this issue.

    As an aside it looks like China is planning heavily in coal conversion. We now sell China much of our coal no longer usable. If its global warming is driving this, we just sell our competitor cheap coal that they undercut our prices, yet no “Carbon Footprint” has been reduced by the whole process. We are a Stupid country.

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, that kind of makes it pretty damn clear where things stand:

    The Democratic Party is against energy independence for America; dedicated to oil addiction; sucking up to Arabs and OPEC; and has zero desire to help America compete against China.

    Nice to know…

    Now all we need is a Republican who will stand up and call a “Commie Rat” at Commie Rat and advocate for American Fuel for American Industry…

    Until then, looks like Canada is the place to be.

  19. R. de Haan says:

    We have plenty of coal world wide, we have tarsand, shale oil and shale gas on virtually every continent (latest found of shale oil Western Australia

    So greenies have a lot of protesting to do before they starve the world from “fossil fuels”. It’s only a petty that while the greenies protest the unstoppable Government subsidized wood pallets supported by billions of Euro’s fromthe Dutch are wiping out US forrests, see DutchState subsidized US defeorrestation with billions of euro’s: Combine this with the useless bird shredders that are build with trillions of government subsidies and the bio fuel madness triggering food wars all over the planet and we know we are ruled by the most scruel and sinister leadership since the Nazi’s who introduced the concept of Übermensch and Untermensch followed by one of the biggest slaughter events of the past century. The NAZI’s of our times having learned from the Neurenberg trials hide behind the cloak of “political correctness” and ‘governing from behind’ which all sounds very sophisticated but in reality covers a similar doctrine. Today it is not political correct to discuss climate science for example and who does risks losing his job. Our political establishment, our media our scientific research institutes, they all have been corrupted to the bone. They know exactly where political correctness begins and where it ends. And those who parrot the doctrine of decline and thermogeddon are rewarded with fame, money and fast careers. This time not the jews or the gypsies will lose out but 85% of humanity (see agenda 21).
    So stand up and shout it out. You have nothing to loose.

    By the way, South Africa coveres it’s entire gasoline consumption with coal to liquid and the last time I paid abount 60 US dollarcents per liter.

  20. R. Shearer says:

    It requires a sizable investment to get through engineering, design and permitting even before a plant can be built, giving advantage to existing petroleum refineries. A large scale CTL plant will probably cost in the $billions and capitol funding risk for such large projects is just not attractive in today’s climate. Most costs are higher now, steel for construction, raw materials, and the catalysts needed to produce modern ultra low sulfur and low aromatic fuels.

    The Louisana Sasol plant mentioned is going to be a GTL plant. Syntroleum sold its demo FT plant to the Chinese and it is in China now. They are in a JV with Tyson, coverting chicken fat to fuel via catalytic processes. Rentech is making its fertilizer by the Haber process not FT and is not doing anything with FT on a commercial scale at present.

    The coal stocks are at support again!

  21. adolfogiurfa says:

    The Bergius process was developed by Friedrich Bergius, yielding a patent in 1913
    But it would be more convenient and cheap a fermentation process….

  22. Roger Sowell says:

    I don’t usually say this in public but I’ll say this: there is a group that holds the best policy is to use up the Middle East’s oil as soon as possible. Having a worldwide valuable resource in the hands of those particular countries with their philosophies is not good.

    The move to big cars and V8 engines in the 60s was to help use up the oil. Environmentalists mucked up the plan with several moves.

    Now the strategy is to find viable alternatives to make the Mid East crude oil worthless. Fracking

  23. Roger Sowell says:

    To continue, Fracking for gas then GTL is one way, plus GTL on stranded gas, electric cars is another, plus CTL, oil sands, whatever it takes to make oil low priced forever.

    Some advocate for nuclear power to recharge electric cars, others wind and solar. I’m against nuclear.

    The problem with electric vehicles is large trucks, which cannot use batteries and still haul a load over mountains or over long distances. So, we continue a need for diesel fuel.

    If the alternatives are successful, the entire world politics and economies will be changed.

    This is a very high-stakes proposition.

  24. Pingback: coal to liquids … a good hard look | pindanpost

  25. Jason Calley says:

    Here is some interesting info regarding the Kerrick process for oil from coal. It was developed in the 1920s and may be worth another look.

    “In 1926, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover (who later became President) made Karrick custodian of the government’s coal-oil research data. Hoover advised Karrick to file patents, thus rendering the broadest public service and giving the government full credit. Sixteen patents were issued to Karrick outright. One, covering the underground distillation and gasification of coal and oil shale, was held jointly with brother Samuel, and another with Douglas Gould. All of the patents have expired since then. Karrick died in 1962. The patents now are in the public domain.”

  26. BobN says:

    @ Roger Sowell – I am finding it hard to believe that using the middle east oil is a strategy, as I would love to see this whole area without oil money and have to work for a living.

    I see a government doing everything possible to stop our glut of oil from hitting the market. Permits are restricted, land taken out of use and the EPA battling at every turn to halt Fracking and using every environmental concern possible to halt operation. Restrict coal by pollution regulations so most of the coal electrical plants are shutting down.

    The Department of Energy ignores LENR funding as well as the Thorium Fusion and promising fusion research like Focus Fusion. The push Solar and wind which will never be viable replacement energy sources.

    All evidence that I see is that they are trying to prop up the middle east prices, or at least non US oil prices. I hate to say it, but our energy policy could not be more devastating to the US independence and cheap energy goal. To me it looks like the government is apposing all efforts for cheap energy and are using “Global Warming” as their club to make it look legitimate. Then again, I may have gone off the deep end in not trusting government.

  27. sabretoothed says:

    Didn’t the NAZIs make oil out of Coal in the 2nd WW? I would have thought this would be cheaper then Shale, and considering how much coal there is why is nobody really doing it yet?

  28. John F. Hultquist says:

    Some very good information and ideas. Thanks to you and Richard for putting this together. I’ve not got much to contribute. But, I will anyway.

    First: . . . and very minor point. I think British Petroleum used the letters (B & P) to rebrand itself as a new company “beyond petroleum” and its largest division is BP America after acquiring Standard Oil of Ohio and Amoco. Thus, it is just called BP, somewhat in the sense of that chicken seller from Kentucky known as KFC.

    The map – - Coal in the USA – - shows a variety of coal products emplaced millions of years ago, a time generally named as the Carboniferous and subdivided as the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian. Here is a link to an interesting paper with many images: ‘ Late Pennsylvanian & Lowest Permian Coal Forming Plants . . .’

    Before that was the Devonian and it also had an interesting paleogeography shown here:

    So, generally speaking, the marine (ocean) rocks (the 2 greens) underlie the coal strata. Note the diagonal line cutting across this map, labeled Equator. These are the shale layers of great current interest.

    Oil products (the phrase) is a bit restrictive. Hydrocarbons expand us into other areas and other depths. There doesn’t seem to be a supply problem.

    You have posted about demographics a few times. There is a supply problem in this context. Many countries need more babies. Even the USA now is below replacement rate.

    There is a saying: The Stone Age did not end because of a lack of stones.
    The hydrocarbon age won’t end because of a lack of hydrogen and carbon.

  29. John says:

    Regarding Japan, as I recall, they have been buying US coal for 30+ years, shipping it to Japan and dumping it offshore for future mining and use. They have something up their sleeve besides an arm.

  30. John F. Hultquist says:

    “”Roger Sowell says:
    5 February 2013 at 2:57 am
    The move to big cars and V8 engines in the 60s was to help use up the oil.””
    I have no insight regarding your hypothesis but, if true, evidence suggests it started about 1936. See:
    “The General Motors streetcar conspiracy (also known as the Great American streetcar scandal) refers . . . ”

  31. Petrossa says:

    Wikipedia, facts by consensus. One spends more time verifying if the sources have anything to do with subject, if the sources mentioned themselves are valid and even more time verifying if the whole lemma holds together.
    The only exceptions are the really factual stuff, such as the periodic table.

    Best avoided as source for anything but amusement.

  32. macrobeak says:

    Sasol has had commercial coal-to-petroleum Fischer-Tropsch plants operating in South Africa for more than 60 years.
    They produce about one third of South Africa’s liquid fuel requirements.

  33. DirkH says:

    John F. Hultquist says:
    5 February 2013 at 6:44 am
    “I have no insight regarding your hypothesis but, if true, evidence suggests it started about 1936. See:
    “The General Motors streetcar conspiracy (also known as the Great American streetcar scandal) refers . . . ””

    I don’t know whether there was a conspiracy to rid Americans off their beloved light rail but I can tell you this – in Germany, population 80 million, each year the federal government hands out 7 billion Euros to the governments of the Bundesländer, so that the prime ministers of these lands can spend the money to buy or pay for public transportation services. So we have light rail in many places, bus schedules of varying quality everywhere, and keep small railway stations in a lot of villages running.

    This entire system would quickly vanish without the 7 billion a year in subsidy – ticket prices would rise severely and make it more attractive to rent or own cars etc which would lead to a death spiral in revenue.

    We can call this system a semi-socialist system. I just want to point out that the competition by ubiquitious cars, taxis, buses, you name it tends to hollow out railbound systems if they are not subsidized. Keeping rail systems in a working condition is expensive; and traffic density of the system is low.

    A Trolley bus system for instance costs an order of magnitude less per km than a light rail system.

  34. Petrossa says:

    “A Trolley bus system for instance costs an order of magnitude less per km than a light rail system.”

    But doesn’t work at all in practice. In all towns that had it it has been phased out. By coincidence there is still a working one from the 60′s in the town just next to mine. It causes so much traffic congestion (since it can’t swerve enough and it is way to wide) that you could run the whole busline for free on the fuel wasted by cars idling in the line behind it.

  35. George says:

    I use about 40 gallons of gas / month. That volume is huge compared to the 6 gallons of milk / month I use.

    [Reply: And your point is?.... I use more water than that with each shower. So? -E.M.Smith]

  36. George says:

    Either way, I think that everyday “ordinary” consumption is easily overlooked. How many resources do everyday Americans “need” to consume to carry-on? Determining efficient energy supply strategies should coincide with efficient consumption strategies.

    [Reply: Isn't that for each individual to choose on their own? Why does consumption need to be 'efficient' at all? Where does "need" enter into desire? It is not "efficient" to go out to a movie or to a dinner. Much more "efficient" and it meets all "needs" to watch via the internet at home and eat a TV Dinner (microwaved, of course). So ought we close all the theaters and restaurants? You use a broken ruler... It isn't "need", it is "utility", and that is individually determined. It isn't "efficiency", it is "utility" and sometimes what is of highest utility is very inefficient. Like a home swimming pool. Very inefficient an unused most of the time; but high individual utility. -E.M.Smith]

  37. George says:

    Since the conservative phrase “It’s the spending stupid!” addresses not the income, but the consumption.

    Reply: Actually, it has far more to do with the meaning of “Balanced Budget”. We have had constantly increasing tax take and that has not ‘fixed the problem’, and has driven the economy into a ditch (especially in California). That is pretty clear that “more tax rate” isn’t going to cut it. Oh, and we’re on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve, so higher tax rates give less revenue anyway. Again, not a tax take issue at all. (BTW, tax takings are not “income”…) On the other side we have massive government spending programs that consume net wealth and grow like weeds. Not going to work. So recognizing that as “the problem” is not a great leap (but one too far for Dimocrats, it would seem. That is, the most dim of the Democrats don’t ‘get it’, but my Democrat Texas Uncle does get it…) BTW, don’t see how this relates to coal conversion to liquid fuels…. so you are straying “off topic”. -E.M.Smith]

  38. E.M.Smith says:

    A bit out of date ( 2006 ) but I suspect China has kept on doing this:

    China to Invest $128 Billion to Develop Coal-Based Synthetic Fuels
    14 December 2006

    Xinhua. China will invest more than one trillion yuan (US$128 billion) to develop alternative coal-based synthetic fuels to ease the country’s dependence on oil imports, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

    The project aims to produce 30 million tons of liquefied coal and 20 million tons of dimethyl ether (DME) by 2020. Coal-to-olefin (CTO) output is expected to hit 8 million tons and coal methanol to reach 66 million tons.

    The money will also be spent on building seven industrial bases nationwide to produce coal-based energy source on a massive scale, including the biggest alternative fuel production base in the lower reaches of the Yellow River.

    Xinjiang is projected to produce 10 million tons of liquefied coal, and the eastern region of Inner Mongolia will become the major methanol supplier, with an annual capacity of 10 million tons.

    A pipeline, at a cost of five billion yuan, will be built to transport 10 million tons of methanol a year from Inner Mongolia to the northeastern Liaoning province.

    In July 2006, the Chinese government determined that it would not approve coal liquefaction (Coal-to-Liquids) projects with an annual production capacity of less than three million tons; coal to methanol or dimethyl ether (DME) projects of less than one million tons; and coal-to-alkene projects of less than 600,000 tons, according to a circular released by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). (Earlier post.)

    I remember some reports of them having methanol and DME fueled cars and trucks being promoted in some provinces as well.

    Wonder if I’m too old to learn Chinese…

  39. omanuel says:

    The sad fact is just this, and nothing less:

    Society is almost totally insane – out of contact with reality. World leaders are part of the problem. We can’t help them or society by fighting or scoffing at their ignorance.

    The basic problem is just this: World leaders and leaders of the scientific community agreed in 1945 to:

    a.) Form the United Nations to save the world from nuclear annihilation on 24 Oct, and to
    b.) Hide the source of energy that vaporized Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 July.

    That source of energy – neutron repulsion in the cores of heavy atoms, some planets, ordinary stars (e.g., the Sun’s pulsar core) and galaxies:

    c.) Created our elements,
    d.) Birthed the solar system five billion years (5 Gyr) ago,
    e.) Sustained the origin and evolution of life from three-four billion years (3.5 Gyr) ago,
    f.) Endowed mankind with creativity, talents and inalienable rights to self-governance, and
    g.) Maintains contact today with every atom in the entire solar system, including every atom in you and me.

    Since 1945, society has been told that life has no purpose, no good orderly direction, no God. That is the root of the insanity that threatens the very survival of our society today:


    With deep regrets,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  40. Mddwave says:

    Reminds me of EROI (energy return on investment) which is energy delivered to society divided by energy used to extract that energy. With a ratio of 80, COAL is clearly superior to all other energy (less than 20). Essentially carbon has high energy density and main byproduct is CO2. Hydro is the exception at 100, but most dams have been built. To maintain our society, there is no other choice but coal.

  41. Julian Jones says:

    There is a recurring theme here, as you say EM – “Somebody is creaming off the price above that point, and that ‘someone’ does not want the price lower… ”

    This involves all sectors, way beyond just energy; its why for example we have evolved a system of healthcare we cannot afford, and so on.

    It is good to explore the detail of some specifics here … but the wider perspective is the real shocker; O Manuel is correct to highlight this.

    William Blake, bemoaning the loss of water power, explained it thus :

    And all the arts of life they changed into the arts of death in Albion.
    The hour-glass contemned because its simple workmanship
    Was as the workmanship of the ploughman and the waterwheel
    That raises water into cisterns broken and burned with fire,
    Because its workmanship was like the workmanship of the shepherd,
    And in their stead intricate wheels, involved, wheel within wheel,
    To perplex youth in their outgoings, to bind the labourers
    Of day and night, the myriads of eternity, that they might file
    And polish brass and iron hour after hour, laborious work,
    Kept ignorant of the use; that they might spend their days of wisdom
    In sorrowful drudgery to obtain a scanty pittance of bread,
    In ignorance to view a small portion and think that All,
    And call it demonstration, blind to the simple rules of life.

  42. adolfogiurfa says:

    @Omanuel: Society is almost totally insane – out of contact with reality. World leaders are part of the problem. We can’t help them or society by fighting or scoffing at their ignorance.


  43. adolfogiurfa says:

    What is it behind such world change? Have you ever wonder what?. You have not!: You are now in the position of the naked King. It is a “sin”, as your church calls it, just daring to utter the real cause of that change: It has been forbidden for too long….It´s natural, ya know, it happens from time to time….Now, like the cheated husband, all that is left for you is to feel proud of your big horns.

  44. adolfogiurfa says:

    Yes, there are TWO worlds, like a cell under mitosis…it happens after two centers of “gravity” develops..

  45. Gdubs says:

    I have heard the definition of insanity to be: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
    … but I don’t agree.
    A better definition of insanity would be: presuming to know

    @Omanual -> World leaders are a symptom but what is the problem? Isn’t everyone a participant? We aren’t ruled but we may be influenced. The saying “I am” incorporates you to the rest of the world (i.e. the world leaders are you).

    Reply: Dear George, please pick one identity and stick with it. The “swap” has resulted in a couple of day delay for me to figure out what is going on and deal with it. Probably not what you wanted. “Surprise” comments go to the end of the “queue” and get dealt with “whenever” if I get time… Per your “presuming to know”, you have no “what” that is being presumed. It looks a lot like trolling. A semi-nonsensical statement that is grammatically incomplete. (The Bots, in particular, do that a lot. It is one of the things I look for to decide how to treat a ‘perturbation’ posting.) OK, you want to disagree with Einstein (I’m pretty sure he was the one who said it), go right ahead and “good luck with that”… Also the “I am” making me a world leader: You must be kidding, right? So by virtue of existing, a Roman Slave is the equivalent of the Emperor? Hmmmm… BOT or ‘adjusting medications’… decisions decisions… I suggest a bit more thought time, more complete sentences, ONE identity, and staying closer to topics of threads. -E.M.Smith]

  46. M Simon says:

    If this is correct it knocks the stuffings out of AGW let alone CAGW. The AGW crowd is howling.

    Basically it is the atmosphere as a steam engine. This old Naval Nuc likes it.

    Funny. WUWT has not covered it at this point.

  47. M Simon says:

    “There is a recurring theme here, as you say EM – “Somebody is creaming off the price above that point, and that ‘someone’ does not want the price lower… ” ”

    That is pretty easy. Without oil above $70 a bbl Saudi Arabia crashes. But they make cheap oil you say? Ah. But they have mouths to feed. If those mouths are not fed the Kingdom gets a civil war of some kind. For Iran the price is higher. And if you pay very close attention they are in a civil war.

  48. M Simon says:

    “Now all we need is a Republican who will stand up and call a “Commie Rat” at Commie Rat and advocate for American Fuel for American Industry…”

    The Republicans are too busy fighting a culture war to do anything about anything else. If you want a champion pitch the Libertarians who are on the rise. They are good at publicity too.

  49. omanuel says:

    @adolfogiurfa (6 February 2013 at 12:41 pm)

    You are right. We each consider the world to be the world we individually experience. Climategate suggests the world was safer before unification under the United Nations on 24 Oct 1945. I regret it has taken so long to decipher and communicate these conclusions from Climategate:

    The Climategate scandal is the result of sixty-four years of anesthetizing mental sloth under a tyrannical one-world government (2009 – 1945 = 64 years):

    “Nuclear fires” in the Sun’s pulsar core made our elements, birthed the solar system five billion years (5 Gyr) ago, sustained the origin and evolution of life from three-four billion years (~3.5 Gyr) ago, and endowed endowed mankind with special talents and inalienable rights to establish governments to protect his Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

    “Nuclear fires” that destroyed Hiroshima on 6 Aug 1945 and Nagasaki on 9 Aug 1945 convinced world leaders to:

    _ a.) Establish the United Nations on 24 Oct 1945, and
    _ b.) Insert a tyrannical UN between mankind and his Creator

    Sixty-four years later – in Nov 2009 – Climategate emails documented the damage to democratic governments and government-financed science.

    Consensus scientists do not yet comprehend Martin Luther King’s message: “Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.”

    Again, adolfogiurfa, I appreciate your comments.

  50. BobN says:

    Here is a link to a new coal technology that looks interesting. Quite a way to prove its viability, but its a start.

  51. Graeme says:


    “The LSE process is “owned” by the U.K. government who want to protect BP British Petroleum”

    You sound like Mr Obama here. BP is very much a US corporation – 27% of its profits come from the US and there is no way that the little UK is going to match that on its own!

  52. E.M.Smith says:


    Sorry, but I’m just not seeing the advantage. It’s just using the same reaction we use for making iron, but in a closed cycle, so that CO2 is not diluted with nitrogen. It would be easier to just extract oxygen from the air and do a direct O2 burn.

    The whole idea is based on the silly notion of CO2 “capture and sequester” which is a waste of time anyway and they admit at least a 1/3 increase in costs over direct burning.

    Yeah, it is interesting that they got it to work, but it doesn’t “change the game” in any way that matters.


    I think that BP is still UK domiciled. It is a “PLC” and has US A.D.Rs…. So that they suck our oil doesn’t change where they are legally homed and controlled… Oh, and hope you like our oil!


    “anesthetizing security” kind of sums it all up…

    @M. Simon:

    Were I feeling more ‘zippy’ I’d do a followup article… but not today…

    Per Repubs vs others: Were there any alternative to Republicans that had any power, I’d be asking them to do the same. Unfortunately, the Libertarian message no longer resonates with 80% of the population. While it does with me, and I’ve voted for Libertarians from time to time, the fact is that the only viable alternative to Democrats are Republicans. As soon as Libertarians capture a State, all that will change. ( I suggest Idaho… though Wyoming and Alaska have potential.)

    Per Arab / Iranian “discontents”:

    That is a very salient point, and one of pondered, but not written about. A few decades back the typical Saudi got something close to $50,000/ yr in ‘gifts’ from the govt from oil. Now that’s down to closer to $10,000 (or less) and folks are grumpy… Other nations in OPEC are in even worse shape with oil production decline rates likely to cause them to run out of cash “any day now”. Some, like Dubai and UAE and Bahrain, have been doing a lot of work building other means of making money (i.e. investing their oil money into physical plant and industry) while others did the Stupid Dictator Squander ( Iraq, Libya,) or politically funded international intrigues ( Iran ).

    It is already a big mess, and is going to get much worse over the next 20 years. It was the foundation of some of the OPEC “troubles” about 30 – 40 years back, with ‘fast use up’ nations like Libya wanting max price up front and others like Saudi wanting more sustainable growth of demand. The Arab Oil Embargo resolved the issue with higher oil prices crashing demand and the Saudi position winning, though at net higher prices enough to satisfy the Libyans

    So your point is very very important. Anything that crashes oil prices, crashes The House Of Saud along with Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Venezuela, etc. etc. But in very non-even ways…

    Frankly, it is part of WHY I’d be building CTL plants starting now and at a rate of at least one a year until they (OPEC) crumbled… Oil is very price in-elastic, so it doesn’t take much excess supply to push thing into “Glut” and crash prices… Unfortunately, after Reagan started a coal liquifaction facility, OPEC (Saudi) and the US Govt “huddled” and some kind of deal was cut. The plant was closed, we began protecting The House Of Saud, and oil became available in a stable if modestly higher priced way. “Win – win”? … (I’d have gone for “BIG-Win you-lose-sucker”; but that’s just me. I respond badly to coercive force and embargo…)

  53. Mikey says:

    Government investment in modified Fischer-Tropsch boondoggles are what’s holding innovation back in this category. The coal majors can whine all day about not getting government support when in fact they have received billions of it. Yet when these guys – – knock on their doors with proven science and a sub-100 million price tag and a cost of production so low that you can include carbon capture in and still make a profit it never gets past their frist rank of technicians.

  54. E.M.Smith says:


    Interesting idea. At first, that 10,000 foot tall reactor gave me a “you have to be kidding” feeling… then I read that they were talking about doing it in a deep well for the self pressurizing and it made sense.

    I find the oblique reference to ‘recent discoveries’ about hydrocarbon formation in rocks interesting.

    During the past few decades, there has been a significant advancement in our understanding of how liquid hydrocarbons form in the rock layers of the Earth. From that understanding, new technologies have been developed regarding how we can effect liquefaction of organic solids.

    Their use of CO2 to make cement is also intriguing. Usually cement is made with carbonate rock yielding CO2, but using mafic rocks is intriguing. I’ll need to think about what the product would be. (Magnesium is sometimes tricky in cement and makes for weak / low durability cements, which is probably why they talk about it being a low quality cement).

    Still, the whole process is an interesting approach. Deep well hole, self pressurizing, heated some but with exothermic reaction for most of it, avoiding the need for endothermic water breakdown for the H. Just all nicely balanced. Like they say, next step is to do it on a larger scale. Unfortunately, the folks with all the ‘big diameter 10,000 foot well’ experience are the oil companies that don’t want the competition… Maybe they can find a small driller / well materials supplier who would like to have a large new place to sell well pipe and drill services…

  55. George says:

    Not a bot. No medication adjustment. Not looking to argue. Not devil’s advocate. Just trying to present an alternative viewpoint with the minimal amount of reading required. It may seem like my statements are off-topic but they’re not. I won’t change my name from now on.

    Reply: OK. Thanks for making that clear. It can be very hard sometimes to know, as all I have to work from is very little text. There are folks how there who do a variety of odd games just to pot stir, so, like it or not, I need to assume the worst from time to time until “the real person” steps up. -E.M.Smith]

  56. George says:

    May you please remove me from moderation watch?

    Reply: OK. But “play nice” and keep in the neighborhood of the topic… -E.M.Smith]

  57. Catcracking says:

    As mentioned by many, Coal Liquifaction to liquid hydrocarbons has been clearly demonstrated more than once. The issue is the cost for building and operating the plant.
    As one who has worked in the energy sector for over 40 years I am skeptical about all the cost claims thrown out by so many because I have worked and consulted with numerous companies that know how to conduct the research and design and cost out a commercial design. Even so the initial costs estimates for such new technology always grow and grow as the details are worked out, even with highly experienced cost estimators. Don’t believe a cost estimate from anyone who does not have extensive experience with major projects.
    I suspect that virtually all the low cost estimate claims fail to consider the total costs for the plant from the beginning to the end since a complete plant is very complex and requires a lot of infrastrusture. The alternative fuels/energy cost claims always make unrealistic claims.

    I have always said that the coal conversion programs in the 80′s were killed because the Saudi’s did not want the competition. Lowering the price of crude did the trick for them.
    One such comprehensive coal liquifaction program in the 80′s can be found below.

    While there are many political constraints place on use of coal in the US et al, I do believe that if a particular coal conversion processes can compete with the price of crude, countries like China and India would adopt it and kick our butts.
    I don’t know the particulars of the LSE coal conversion process; but wonder if the claims are accurate, why it is not already in production? There are too many countries that would love to break their dependence on the OPEC price of oil.

  58. Mikey says:

    All of the technologies based on Fisher-Tropsch are going to be prohibitively expensive. As are ground level pyrolysis/hydrogenation techniques. The technology I mentioned above, even if some tweaking is required en route to perfect it, starts out so mechanically simple that that is where it gets its realative cheapness from. All of the pressure generation and somewhere up to half the motive force for the process is supplied free by gravity. IgniteEnergy in Australia already uses the science of splitting polymers with hydrogenation which it calls CAT-HTR, but with modular above-ground technology. IMO, the hesitancy of coal companies to embrace new technologies that actually ARE cheap is the same disbelief factor you mention… because they are used to having to beg the govt for billions to make even the smallest electroc plants function. The thought of a sub 100 million reactor working as a fuel manufacturing plant at a profit seems too good to be true.

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