Coal-to-liquid technology gains political support

By | May 25, 2007
In late March, the Coal-to-Liquid Coalition was formed and immediately began to push for legislation that would create incentives for coal-to-liquid (CTL) technologies in the United States. Because coal is an abundant feedstock and can be made into a synthetic diesel product, this fledgling industry could be seen as competition for biodiesel.

According to the coalition, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., introduced an amendment to legislation before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in late April that would include CTL fuels in a new biofuel mandate that calls on the United States to use 21 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. Initially, Bunning and presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., coauthored the Coal-to-Liquid Fuels Promotion Act of 2007 and introduced it to the Senate in January.

In the CTL process, the coal is gasified, the gas is run through the Fischer-Tropsch process, and the resulting product can be further refined into various fuel types. Bunning's office maintains that diesel produced from coal is cleaner than conventional diesel because most of the sulfur and nitrogen is removed during processing. "With a strong investment in CTL, America will wean itself off of foreign sources of energy and at the same time create jobs for working families back home," Bunning said. "CTL is a viable, environmentally friendly energy resource that will help cure America's addiction to oil."

However, some disagree with this assessment. In fact, Obama has been criticized specifically for his support of CTL technology by environmentalists whose stance is that coal remains a fossil fuel, even if it is transformed into a liquid. Those same environmentalists, who have traditionally supported Obama, also argue that coal usage is a significant contributor to global warming and therefore disagree with expanding its use.

Energy and the environment will be central issues in the upcoming presidential race that Obama has chosen to enter, and it may be significant if Obama shifts his environmental support to the favor of special interests in his home state. "Illinois Basin coal has more untapped energy potential than the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined," he said. "Instead of enriching the Saudis, we can use these reserves to bring a renaissance for Illinois coal."
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