Filling Your Tank With… Coal
In generally animated and large-ranging testimony earlier than the Senate Vitality and Natural Assets Committee on Tuesday morning, witnesses and lawmakers debated the relative deserves of placing coal within the nation’s gas tanks.
“I believe that coal is America’s most affordable, obtainable, reliable and safe supply of power,” declared Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), whose own coal-pleasant American Alternative Fuels Act of 2011, launched two weeks ago, was on the committee’s morning agenda. “And utilizing America’s coal resources as a transportation gasoline will decrease our dependence on overseas sources of oil and actually strengthen our nationwide safety.”
Turning coal into a liquid fuel is a hot topic. The coal business, backed by friendly Republicans in Congress, is pushing a suite of bills that may give liquified coal fuels, which can be utilized as substitutes for oil, a foothold within the market. One invoice, floated in the Home final month, would literally require that liquid fuel squeezed from coal be blended, in growing amounts, straight into the nation’s aviation, motorized vehicle, residence heating and boiler fuel over coming many years.
Some analysts say that if achieved correctly, and with the best regulatory and environmental protections, such fuels might have a job to play in a diversified domestic power mix.
But critics argue that the mandatory environmental protections don’t really exist, and that turning to coal for any contemporary objective, quite than working wholeheartedly to go away the stuff perpetually in the bottom, merely does not make sense. They are saying the push to turn coal into liquid fuels is a cynical ploy by a dying and desperate business, and, moreover, one that depends on Nazi-era technology that has no redeeming social or environmental characteristics worthy of new public funding.
“We have to ship the sign that the brand new fuels we start to commercialize cannot cause extra issues than they repair,” mentioned Brian Siu, a policy analyst with the Pure Sources Defense Counsel who supplied testimony earlier than a Senate subcommittee on the difficulty Tuesday, in an interview with The Huffington Submit. “Why should we be be serving to a expertise to get of the bottom that’s vastly worse for the environment and for the climate than we have already got as we speak “
A new PUSH FOR AN Old Know-how
Whether coal-to-liquid fuels, as they are identified in the trade, are vastly worse, considerably worse, on par with or — in some purposes — marginally higher for the climate or the atmosphere than different fuels depends upon a bunch of variables. These include how the coal was mined, whether or not the coal is being combined with any other feedstock — forest trimmings, say, or grass — whether or not or not the carbon dioxide is being captured and saved when the stuff is burned, and, of course, the options to which it’s being compared.
However no matter advantages its supporters might conjure, there’s little query that the historical narrative resulting in coal’s eventual refinement into liquid gasoline is characterized by desperation greater than inspiration.
The most typical chemical process for creating artificial fuels, recognized because the Fischer-Tropsch process, was developed in Germany in the early a part of the 20th century. Nazis used it to convert pure fuel and coal into liquid diesel to maintain their tanks operating as standard fuel supply lines have been blocked. The know-how later migrated to South Africa, which, upon finding itself severed from world oil supplies throughout boycotts of its apartheid policies, relied closely on coal-to-liquids for its transportation sector.
But these sorts of conversions are neither low-cost nor clean, using copious quantities of water and energy — and sending up vital quantities of greenhouse fuel emissions in the method — to render a useable liquid fuel. Based on the World Coal Affiliation, South Africa, which has been producing the stuff in industrial portions since the 1950s, was long the sole user of coal-to-liquids at a industrial scale, although it has currently been joined by China.
For many of the world, there have merely been simpler, cheaper — and cleaner — methods to acquire transport fuel, at least till now.
PLANTS ON THE DRAWING BOARD
There are at the moment no amenities producing business amounts of liquid fuel from coal within the United States, in response to Nicholas Paduano, an energy economist on the U.S. Division of Vitality (D.O.E.), though a number of plants are in numerous stages of planning and improvement. This includes a $4 billion coal-to-gasoline facility in Mingo County, W.Va. that held a groundbreaking ceremony early final month.
One other coal-to-liquids undertaking, Drugs Bow Gasoline & Power in Wyoming, is underneath consideration for a federal loan guarantee from the Division of Power. Headed up by a number of former Enron executives, the venture just lately received a positive ruling from Wyoming Supreme Courtroom, which upheld its air quality permit after a challenge from the Sierra Club.
A a lot-anticipated plant slated for jap Ohio has lately been struggling with monetary woes.
Environmental teams in the U.S. in the meantime, have been mounting increasingly pitched campaigns to head-off what they see as attempts by the coal trade to realize a beachhead in an entirely new market. They don’t buy the argument that, below that proper circumstances, liquified coal could be thought of a clear different gas choice.
“The problem is the claims for liquid coal do not all the time match up with the fact,” stated Alex Moore, an activist with the environmental group Associates of the Earth. “They say if you sequester and store all the carbon emissions that the footprint can be much like typical gasoline, or that in the event that they use some mixture of biofuel with liquified coal the impact could be comparable, but it surely often looks so much like fudging the numbers. And in any case, it hides all the other environmental impacts related to mining, heavy water use, ecosystem destruction.”
If that is true, it’s a failure of government and a failure of regulation, mentioned James T. Bartis, a scientist and policy analyst with the RAND Company. Bartis, who was on hand Tuesday to testify before the Senate Energy and Pure Sources Committee, has conducted several studies on the relative merits of coal-to-liquids and other unconventional fossil fuels and are available to the conclusion that they get an undeserved bad rap.
“U.S. federal power policies give little or no assist to any alternative fuel produced from coal or, for that matter, some other fossil energy supply,” Bartis instructed the Senate committee on Tuesday. “In doing so, we forego the chance to develop a domestic trade that has the potential to supply tens of millions of barrels per day of other fuels that can reduce dependence on imported oil whereas not growing greenhouse fuel emissions.”
In a separate phone name with The Huffington Publish, Bartis steered that federal power coverage had too heavily favored renewable fuels that aren’t practically prepared for business-scale manufacturing, and that providing some assist for coal-to-liquids is sensible economically.
“The policies we’ve got as we speak are very partial to solely a very small part of the opportunity earlier than us,” Bartis said.
When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the easy tale of the tape reveals coal-to-liquids to be in fairly grim territory. Produced without any sort of mechanism to capture and retailer emissions, greenhouse gasses arising from coal-to-liquids manufacturing are more than 100 % larger than standard petroleum gas, in line with estimates compiled by the Environmental Safety Agency.
With carbon capture and sequestration, the company puts emissions of coal-to-liquids at about 4 % increased than — or roughly on par with — petroleum-based fuels. petrochemical Companies A D.O.E. examine from 2009 suggests that the emissions is perhaps barely beneath that of petroleum.
Bartis and others say these emissions variations can be diminished even further — to close to zero, in reality — by constructing plants that mix both coal and biomass. “Whether this technology will attain its potential depends crucially on gaining early production expertise — together with production with carbon seize and sequestration — in the United States,” Bartis noted in his written testimony Tuesday. “To our knowledge, no agency of the U.S. authorities has announced plans to promote early industrial use of [such] fuels derived from a mixture of coal and biomass.”
A part of the reason the government hasn’t gotten behind that effort is simply monetary. Highly refined products like liquified coal make no sense when oil is low-cost. As oil costs rise, however, unconventional and pricier sources change into extra attractive. A recent D.O.E. evaluation reckoned that coal-to-liquids can be financial when crude oil costs are at or above $86 a barrel. A 9-to-one coal-biomass combine would make sense when oil was at $ninety three a barrel, based on the same report, with fewer emissions.
The price for a barrel of crude stays within the $one hundred vary at the moment.
However environmental teams argue that such blunt economics fail to capture the total commerce-offs related to nurturing a brand new marketplace for coal.
Based on a report from the National Research Council, for example, important increases in coal mining could be wanted to meet a concerted foray into the transportation sector. “If coal mining activities within the U.S. increase by 50 % — an additional 580 million tons of coal mined each year,” that report concluded, “up to 3 million barrels of gas per day may very well be produced. To petroleum equipment supply engineering company peseco attain this, two or three new coal-to-gas plants would have to be built each year over the following 20 years.”
Such big will increase in mining exercise would include all method of ancillary costs to communities, critics level out — from local water contamination to habitat destruction.
And environmental advocates like Brian Siu add that there are not any rules in place to guarantee that any of the best-practices petroleum equipment supply engineering company peseco the industry says can make coal-to-liquids a viable various fuel from a climate perspective — from carbon capture technologies to biomass blending — will actually be deployed.
“We haven’t any type of economy-extensive carbon limitations, nothing that is been adopted by Congress,” Siu said. And till something like that comes along, he said, what’s to ensure that plant homeowners will hassle with the added expense
DISMANTLING FEDERAL ROADBLOCKS
Supporters of coal-to-liquids say a form of inexperienced-chauvinism has trickled into federal coverage, they usually’ve lately zeroed in on what they see as a particularly nettlesome barrier tucked into the Energy Independence and Safety Act of 2007.
Signed by President George W. Bush simply prior to leaving workplace, the legislation included, amid a wide range of different efficiency and vitality performance standards for automobiles and buildings and lightbulbs, a seemingly innocuous procurement provision geared toward greening the federal car fleet.
However that provision, known as Part 526, immediately stuck in the craw of the fossil gas industries — and maybe none a lot as the coal business. Part 526 essentially forbids federal companies — together with the fuel-thirsty military — from entering into contracts to purchase various or artificial fuels that have a bigger greenhouse gas footprint than conventional petroleum-based mostly fuel.
Supporters of the availability see it as being expertise impartial. Experiment with various fuels, the rule appears to suggest — simply don’t use anything that can be worse for the climate than what we already have.
Opponents of the provision say it discriminates against tricked-out coal and different unconventional fossil fuels, including oil culled from the tar sands of Alberta.
The stakes are larger than they could seem. Although accounting for less than 2 % of the nation’s complete consumption of 19 million barrels a day, the federal authorities and army can present an vital pre-industrial incubator for experimental fuels.
Environmental advocates need these alt-fuel contracts to be the only province of local weather-pleasant stuff derived from the likes of algae and switchgrass.
The coal trade says such provisions are unfair, and Barrasso’s invoice is hardly alone in making an attempt to undo them. The coal-to-liquids foyer, for instance, gained renewal of a key tax credit score as a part of the broad federal tax reduce bundle passed in December.
Another measure, launched in the Home final month, goes beyond the federal automobile fleet, requiring that liquified coal be blended in increasing quantities immediately into the nation’s aviation, motorcar, home heating and boiler gasoline stock.
The extra complete Roadmap for America’s Power Future, sponsored by Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-Calif.), and now being reviewed by the Home Vitality and Commerce Subcommittee, goes even further, requiring the Defense Division to “develop, assemble, and function a qualified coal-to-liquid facility.”
Section 526 is also at the moment targeted in the Home version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is scheduled for markup on June 13 — although it’s value noting that not less than one department of the navy desires nothing to do with liquified coal fuels.
And this is actually what troubles environmentalists most about the current tenor of the talk on Capitol Hill: The coal foyer and its supporters in Congress appear be contradicting themselves — notably in taking goal at provisions like 526. Coal-to-liquids supporters, in any case, argue that the technology, if executed correctly, ought to be no worse — and even perhaps marginally better from a greenhouse fuel perspective — than plain old petroleum-based mostly gas.
But when that’s the case, why should provisions like Part 526, which favors no specific expertise and only stipulates that an alternate gas be no worse than oil, be considered a barrier to liquified coal
In response to an petroleum equipment supply engineering company peseco electronic mail question from a reporter for clarification on this level, Emily Lawrimore, a spokeswoman for Sen. Barrasso, pointed to testimony given by Bartis. “As Dr.