Liquefication Doesn’t Turn Coal Green


I’m in a “green” kind of mood today. It’s probably because we just launched our new environmentally-friendly shopping guide, ShopGreen, here at PriceGrabber. So when I started thinking about what to write today, I immediately thought about the Fischer-Tropsch process.


Fischer-Tropsch is actually the process of converting coal to liquid. In other words, we can take coal, of which there’s plenty in the US, and turn it into an oil substitute. As far as I can tell, we wouldn’t need to modify airplanes at all to run on this stuff.

Sounds great, right? David Neeleman, of JetBlue fame, has been pushing this process as the savior of our country for months now, and he’s starting to make headway. He and his machine are pushing a bill through Congress to give companies an incentive to build plants to make this happen.

One problem – it’s really bad for the environment. Ah, bummer. Thought we had this one solved.

To put this in context, take a look at this graph showing the impact of using liquefied coal instead of petroleum.

07_06_13 coaltoliquid

Not so good, huh? This graph, which originally ran in the New York Times, was pulled directly from a good TerraPass blog post on the subject. Now, Neeleman is pushing a program that would require carbon capture and storage, so the impact is only marginally worse than petroleum, but is that really what we should be shooting for here?

Why is Neeleman pushing this? Well, it does get us away from needing foreign oil. We could use our own coal supplies, but it’s pretty short sighted in the scheme of things. The cost and time needed to build these plants could be better spent on developing cleaner technologies instead of something that does nothing positive for the environment.

Sadly, it appears the political will may be there to get this passed. If Congress can talk about what they’ve done to move us towards energy independence, that will be great for them regardless of the environmental impact involved.

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1 comment on “Liquefication Doesn’t Turn Coal Green

  1. I was skimming through the blog (found it on FT) and wanted to comment on this post as I am in the oil industry.

    There are plenty of places that can do the Fischer-Tropsch process with a few modifications and do it cleanly. The biggest thing that people are worried about is greenhouse gases (like the above graph), what the graph fails to state though, is that most, if not all of that greenhouse gas would be collected and used to inject into what we call “dead” wells or wells that are not producing oil anymore. The injection would hopefully bring these wells back to life while at the same time getting rid of the gas.

    Keep up the writing!

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