Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


July 8, 2006

Coal has power to fuel independence

High fuel prices and renewed emphasis on energy independence could have consumers pumping gasoline made from coal in the not-too-distant future.

It’s not a pie-in-the-sky dream, researchers say, but proven technology pioneered in Germany and utilized in South Africa for more than 20 years.

Coal-to-liquid plants are now being proposed across the U.S., and West Virginia is among the top coal-rich states actively wooing private investors for the billions of dollars needed in start-up funding.

And, at least one researcher believes it “makes sense” to have such a plant in southern West Virginia, where there is an abundance of coal and transportation costs of the end product would be less than in the Midwest or West Coast.

“Somebody is going to build a CTL plant in your area,” Frank Clemente, senior professor of Energy Policy at Penn State University, said. “I guarantee it.”

The U.S. has a huge problem with oil, and needs to kick its addiction, Clemente said.

“Coal is coming back,” he said. “This is like ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,’ ’’

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said he is committed to making West Virginia a leader in coal-to-liquid development.

“It (coal-to-liquid technology) will be the most wonderful thing to happen to this state,” he said.

Fueling invention

While Americans may have complained about the cost of oil — or, at least, gasoline off-and-on in recent decades — the nation has had a supply of crude. That’s not always been the case for other countries.

This necessity for fuel spurred the development of the process to turn coal into gasoline. In 1925, Germans Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch pioneered an indirect liquefaction process to transform coal into liquid fuel.

“The Germans didn’t have any oil. They had to have access to fuel,” Clemente said, noting this coal-to-liquid process was used to fuel Nazi tanks and airplanes during World War II.

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