Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal

Matthew L. Wald, New York Times
The coal in the ground in Illinois alone has more energy than all the oil in Saudi Arabia. The technology to turn that coal into fuel for cars, homes and factories is proven. And at current prices, that process could be at the vanguard of a big, new industry.

Such promise has attracted entrepreneurs and government officials, including the Secretary of Energy, who want domestic substitutes for foreign oil.

But there is a big catch. Producing fuels from coal generates far more carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming, than producing vehicle fuel from oil or using ordinary natural gas. And the projects now moving forward have no incentive to capture carbon dioxide beyond the limited amount that they can sell for industrial use.
(5 July 2006)

Germany Gives Coal Opt Out Under CO2 Emission Plan

Reuters, Planet Ark
Germany proposes to tighten its greenhouse gas emissions limit in the second round of the EU’s carbon market, but will allow new coal plants to opt out, the environment minister said on Wednesday.

The plan cuts the number of free pollution permits handed to heavy industry by nearly 6 percent, Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told a news conference in Berlin.

But the limits do not apply to new power plants, including heavily polluting coal plants, for 14 years from 2008, the start of the new 2008-12 phase.
(4 July 2006)

Does Air Force have a coal-powered plane in its future?

Dave Ahearn, AIM Points
The Air Force is researching whether alternative fuels can be used in aircraft, looking at fuels derived from coal, natural gas, corn, biomass and more, according to Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command.

Working with the Department of Energy and other agencies, researchers are seeking ways “to wean us off oil,” Carlson said, noting that the Department of Defense (DOD) is one of the largest consumers of energy in the world, and the Air Force uses 41 percent of that DOD renewable energy consumption.

The Air Force also is partnering with airlines in the search for plane fuels not derived from petroleum, which has risen in price from about $10 a barrel when President Clinton was in office, to about $70, a seven-fold increase. Soaring prices of kerojet fuel have shoved many airlines into perilous financial straits. And when will a plane take off powered by coal or crops? Soon. Last week, a tanker truck was delivered full of synthetic fuel, Carlson said, speaking to journalists in a Defense Writers Group breakfast.
(30 June 2006)

Old king coal to reign as fossil fuel continues to fire the future

Original: “The best hope for energy security”
Martin Wolf, Financial Times via The Australian
Even if production of conventional oil were to peak, the oil era would not be over
…will contemporary Malthusians prove right about energy?

The answer is: No. Moreover, without extraordinary action, the future lies with oil, gas and, above all, “old king coal”, the fuel with which the industrial revolution began.

This must concern another group of Malthusians – those concerned with global warming. That, however, is a subject for next week. The theme of today is how humanity might meet its demand for commercial energy.

…Nor does the end of oil mean the end of fossil fuels. Gas and, above all, coal are even more plentiful. Some would counter that petroleum is a unique source of high quality energy for transportation (which itself accounts for one-fifth of commercial energy use).

But it is possible to convert coal and natural gas into “syngas” (synthesis gas) and then into liquid fuels. The question is one of cost. The answer is that this would be more expensive than conventional oil, but not prohibitively so.
(6 July 2006)
The original article at the UK Financial Times is titled: “The best hope for energy security.” Jerome a Paris has a rebuttal: All is well. Oil is plentiful!.

UPDATE: Original on the FT site now seems to be available.

Coal’s false promise to America

Jeff Goodell, NY Times via International Herald Tribune
…The biggest problem with America’s bounty of coal is not what it does to our mountains or the atmosphere, but what it does to our minds. It preserves the illusion that we don’t have to change our lives. Given the profound challenges we face with the end of cheap oil and the arrival of global warming, this is a dangerous fantasy.

If we had less coal, we might replace the 19th-century notion that we can drill and burn our way to prosperity with a more modern view of efficiency and sustainability. Instead of spending billions of dollars each year to subsidize tapping out yet another finite resource, we’d pour that money into solar energy, biofuels and other renewable resources.

We’d be creating jobs in new industries, not protecting them in old ones. And we’d understand that the real fuel of the future is not coal but creativity.
(23 June 2006)
Jeff Goodell, author of the recently published book “Big Coal,” has been in the news lately with interviews and reviews of his book. Global Public Media has a long interview (audio) with Goodell.