A New Way to Make Gas...
And environmentalists hate it...
Ben Glasser, a PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, co-authored an article in last week’s issue of Science regarding his work on coal-to-liquid technology. When the cost of oil rises, it becomes a huge burden on certain countries that need to import the fuel. But a process exists to convert coal into liquid gas suitable for car and jet engines. It’s called the Fischer-Tropsch process. Cooked up by two German scientists in the 1920s, it can be a lifesaver in times when that process is more economical or politically stable than buying oil.
The good news is that the process works. The great news is that Glasser and his colleagues have made a discovery that tremendously revs up the efficiency of the process. This means cheap, cheap fuel for people that just might need it and have economical access to coal. Glasser helped develop a coal-to-liquid plant in China, where cheaper energy and openness to a degree of capitalism has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty. Glasser’s work could also be a boon to the U.S., where you can’t throw James Hansen without hitting a 50-year stash of delicious anthracite.
Wired’s take? Alexis Madrigal, one of the magical thinkers, writes:
Scientists have devised a new way to transform coal into gas for your car using far less energy than the current process. The advance makes scaling up the environmentally unfriendly fuel more economical than greener alternatives.
Actually, coal-to-liquid is more economical even without the breakthrough. Madrigal continues:
If oil prices rise again, adoption of the new coal-to-liquid technology, reported this week in Science, could undercut adoption of electric vehicles or next-generation biofuels. And that’s bad news for the fight against climate change.
Le Changement Climatique! Quel desastre! Alexis de Tocqueville never had to wrestle with such beasts.
Glasser’s new production method allows them to set a lower limit on the amount of energy that would be needed to transform solid coal into fuel. The very best possible CTL process would require 350 megawatts of input to make 80,000 gallons of fuel; the current process uses more than 1,000 megawatts. Even with the small efficiency gains, a large, domestic, carbon-intensive source of transportation fuel would throw a wrench into many plans to reduce emissions from vehicles.
Emission reductions notwithstanding, how does a drop from 1000 megawatts to 350 qualify as only a “small” efficiency gain? What would a large one look like? And how much energy is 80,000 gallons of fuel? And what kind of megawatts are we talking about? Megawatt-hours? Days? How about a humanist comparison regarding how many lives could be saved by implementing Glasser’s research (lots), versus how many could be saved by focusing on emission reductions (data not found)?