Coal-to-liquid Conversion – A Technology to Watch

The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 is considered a failure as it did not produce results as expected. Adding insult to injury, the IPCC model relies on software to simulate highly complex earth processes failed scientific evidence.

Converting coal to a liquid fuel (CTL), a process referred to as coal liquefaction‚ allows coal to be utilised as an alternative to oil. There are two different methods for converting coal into liquid fuels:

  • Direct liquefaction works by dissolving the coal in a solvent at high temperature and pressure. This process is highly efficient, but the liquid products require further refining to achieve high grade fuel characteristics.
  • Indirect liquefaction gasifies the coal to form a syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide). The syngas is then condensed over a catalyst‚ the Fischer-Tropsch process to produce high quality, ultra-clean products.

An array of products can be made via these processes‚ ultra-clean petroleum and diesel, as well as synthetic waxes, lubricants, chemical feedstocks and alternative liquid fuels such as methanol and dimethyl ether (DME). (read more)

In 2007, US Congress has been talking about coal-to-liquid conversion, a pricey technology at that time. While the liquid fuel that is produced is environmentally friendly, there are concerns about the carbon emissions involved in the process.

Coal is very cost efficient and reliable. Once it's environmentally compliant, coal will continue to be the preferred fuel source for power generation, and on a coal-to-liquids basis, it will begin to open up the transportation markets as well. The long-term outlook for coal is very positive, and it's very positive specifically because of the potential for commercial technologies.

"The option to convert unconventional feedstocks such as heavy oil and coal will be key in meeting transport fuel demand for the next 25 years," said Iain Conn, CEO BP Refining & Marketing.

The quantity of coal, in the US alone could last for 250 years compared to oil & gas which is now almost depleted. The National Mining Association published a paper about coal-to-liquid technology urging the US Congress to adopt incentives for coal-to-liquid fuel facilities.

About the Author

Ver Pangonilo
A Filipino Engineer, Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ) - Australia and Professional Electrical Engineer (PEE) - Philippines with extensive experience in concept select, front-end engineering, HV & LV detail design, construction and commissioning of Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Area electrical installations in water and waste water pipeline and pumping facilities, offshore platforms, hydrocarbon process plants and pipelines including related facilities. Hazardous area classification and design certification (UEENEEM015B, UEENEEM016B, UEENEEM017B).
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