Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 9, 2006

‘People say we’re the Saudi Arabia of coal’

Region poised to sit at forefront of fuel revolution

“We still have the coal. We’ve used everybody’s else’s oil.”

Importing foreign oil was easy compared to developing and investing in new fuel technologies, Frank Clemente, senior professor of Energy Policy at Penn State University, said.

However, by importing oil from other countries, we have saved our own natural resources.

The recent emphasis on coal-to-liquid plants, which convert coal into various fuels, is putting the nation’s coalfields — including those in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia — in a new light.

“People say we’re the Saudi Arabia of coal,” Clemente said. “Kentucky or West Virginia has 30 billion barrels of coal.”

These states “are as important as any OPEC country worldwide because they have the energy underground,” he said. “We still have the money in the bank. We’re lucky in that way. We still have resources we can turn to.”

A half-dozen states are now working on coal-to-liquid technology proposals, and the Mountain State is among the leaders in the pack.

“We need to get the greatest value we can out of our resources,” Gov. Joe Manchin said.

Turning coal into fuel is not a new idea. The process was developed by German scientists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch in 1925, and was used extensively by the country to fuel tanks and airplanes during World War II.

The method of turning coal into fuel is still known as the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Beginning in the 1950s, South Africa — oil-strained due to Apartheid-induced embargoes — began utilizing the technology. Led by the Sasol company, the country has produced more than 700 million barrels of synthetic fuels from coal since the 1980s

Coal rush

Plants to make gasoline and diesel from coal have now been proposed across the nation. “In just the past few weeks coal-to-liquids (CTL) plants have been announced in Mississippi, Ohio, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Illinois,” Clemente said. “These are $2 to $4 billion projects.”

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