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A primer on coal-to-liquids

By Chemical Engineering |

As an energy resource, global coal reserves represent 2,000 billion barrels of oil equivalent. In 2007, global oil reserves were about 1,300 billion barrels of oil. World wide, oil demand will grow 40 to 50% by 2030. But coal offers an opportunity to diversify worldwide liquid-fuel supplies and coal utilization to produce fuels that can extend the lifetime of world oil reserves. This is a strategic long-term option for the U.S., which currently controls only 3% of world oil reserves at 22 billion barrels. China is already pursuing this option in earnest. Given the gradual depletion of oil resources around the world, at some stage in the not-to-distant future, major alternative sources of liquid fuels will be required to avoid a major global recession. Coal liquefaction is one possible source, backed by large recoverable coal reserves globally. There are two pathways to convert coal to fuel: direct or indirect liquefaction. Table 1 lists the projects underway or being planned for these two routes. TABLE 1. COAL-TO-LIQUIDS PROJECTS Pilot plants (U.S.) Location Developers Capacity, bbl/d Colorado Rentech 10 – 15 New Jersey Headwaters Up to 30 Oklahoma ConocoPhillips 300 – 400 Oklahoma Syntroleum 70 Plants under…
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