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Coal to oil: A limited solution
Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, Times of India
…The BRIC report of Goldman Sachs predicts that between 2000 and 2050, India’s GDP will rise almost 60 times and China’s 40 times.

That sounds great, but if oil consumption in these countries rises at just half their GDP growth rate, China will need 160 million barrels/day and India 60 million barrels/day by 2050.

That’s impossible: world production today is just 85 million barrels/day, and does not seem likely to rise much higher. What’s the way out? Maximising the use of coal is one obvious possibility.

India has over 200 billion tones of coal reserves, the fourth largest in the world. Not all of this is extractable, but it still constitutes a large energy reservoir. The main use of such coal will be to generate electricity.

But a new prospect is now on the horizon: the conversion of coal to oil. Last week, finance minister P Chidambaram disclosed that South African company Sasol is considering investing $1 billion, rising ultimately to $6 billion, for a project to convert Indian coal into petroleum products.

…to what extent can oil from coal replace oil imports to meet India’s future needs?

The sobering answer is: not much. The proposed Sasol investment of $5.8 billion will be the biggest single foreign investment by far in India. Yet, such a plant will take five years to build, and will produce no more than 4 million tonnes of oil per year.

This will be less than one year’s increase in consumption. More plants could be built, but scaling up will not be simple. Apart from the high cost and time involved, Sasol has found that the yield of oil in the CTL process is highly sensitive to the quality of coal.

This means that only a small fraction of India’s large coal reserves may be suitable for conversion.
(15 July 2006)

Coal’s Bright Future

Thomas K. Grose, Time Magazine
With energy demand growing and oil and gas supplies dwindling, a once-dismissed dirty fuel gets a second look
…by all indications, coal seems poised for a comeback. Thanks to high natural-gas prices, worries about gas-reserve levels and the security of supplies, and new “clean-coal” technologies, coal may end up as the bridge fuel of choice to keep Europe’s lights burning until renewable, cleaner sources of power become feasible.

…Despite those advantages, coal is still thought of as a dirty, carbon-heavy source of fuel, unwelcome in a world concerned with global warming and the potential environmental crises it could unleash. But that dilemma may be solved by new technologies that could reduce CO2 emissions from coal to nearly zero.

…”If climate change is urgent, then carbon capture and storage is a really big deal. And the sooner we do it, the more options we have,” he argues. At a time when oil and gas are getting neither cheaper nor more plentiful, the world needs all the options it can find.
(17 July 2006 issue)
The article is rather credulous about the “new technologies that could reduce CO2 emissions from coal to nearly zero.” See the many recent articles on coal to see why the outlook is not as rosy as Time would have us believe, or read “Big Coal” by Jeff Goodell. -BA

Coal: a clean energy source for the future?

Coal is making a comeback as a cheap and reliable source of energy. With global energy demand rising at an unprecedented rate, the world’s vast coal reserves are attracting growing interest from governments in Europe, the US and Asia. But while the efficiency and cleanliness of coal-fired power stations is improving, coal remains the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Genuinely clean coal – i.e.: one that emits close to zero CO2 thanks to carbon capture and storage technology – is not expected to become economically viable before twenty years. And with the growing sense of emergency surrounding global warming, coal is simply not the answer, environmentalists argue.
(27 June 2006)
Summary and links from a European perspective.