The New York Times reports on the growing moves to convert coal to oil. The paper points out that the coal in states like Illinois have more energy than all the oil in Saudi Arabia. The technology to turn that coal into fuel for cars, homes and factories is proven. And at current prices, that process could be at the vanguard of a big, new industry.

However there is a huge catch, as producing fuels from coal generates far more carbon dioxide, than producing vehicle fuels from oil. But that is not stopping business and the US government from moving in that direction.

Rentech Inc., a research-and-development company based in Denver, plans to use an old fertilizer plant to turn coal to truck fuel. Even the car companies are interested. Bill Reinert, from Toyota, argues that turning coal into transport fuel could offer a bright future. “It’s a huge deal,” he says.

In March, the Energy Secretary, Samuel K. Bodman, said in a speech that making diesel fuel or jet fuel from coal was “one of the most exciting areas” of research and could be crucial to the President’s goal of cutting oil imports.

“It’s a potential disaster for the environment if we move in the direction of trying to create a big synfuel program based on coal to run our transportation fleet,” argues Daniel A. Lashof, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In fact the saying “Out of the frying pan into the fire” comes to mind.


  • The NRDC is a mouth piece for the “the sky is falling” crowd. Wwll, after all they need something to show that still can find something to protest even if its their “the people can go to hell” logic that some one will pay to hesr. We are in need of oil.. We have more coal then then all the oil producers in the world and can be extracted, even using 70 year technology if need be. The people of Colorado are on the right track. Support them. Larry Hassell

  • Oil from Coal!!!! We need a long term goal for our energy needs. Something that is econimical, green friendly, and that is renewable. (like the hydrogen fuel cells) But, this would be a great interim source in lieu of crude oil until the fuel cell technogoly is perfected. I am sure that if a large source of oil made from coal was available to the consumers, the cost of crude oil would drop like a rock, and we would basically have twice the oil, at half the price. The only real losers would be the poor oil producing companies and of course the oil companies (who are just getting by with their multi-billion dollar profits).

    How can we get this from an idea to a reality????

  • I think there definetly needs to be a balance between enviromental awareness and a fuel source that we are not Middle East dependent upon. But being a Tree-hugger extremist or a capalistic physcopath does none of us any good, coal to oil is an alternative to Middle East oil, but can we develop the technologies to make it more environmentally sound? Hydrogen may be another alternative, but we’re not quite there yet. Our major issue is with the Oil companies and there willingness to stay on the current path to no where…

  • In WWII the Germans made gas out of coal so we have had the ability to do this for a long time. It the President just made a speach saying the government was going to give out grants to research the idea. The price of oil would crash, because the oil producing countries can not afford to have the US develope an alternitive fuel source. If you dobt this there is historical evidence of a company back in the 80’s that planned to do this and when it was announced the oil producing countries dropped the price of oil so low that the company went bankrupt.

  • After reading about this process in Glen Beck’s book, WHAT THE HELL ARE WE WAITING FOR? Oil from coal, with 70 year old tech, for $45.00 a barrel. With 2008 tech. $28.00 a barrel. What are we waiting for.

    But proceed with confidence. As soon as the promise looks good I will bet good money that the price of oil drops quickly, at least untill we stop the process of coal to oil.

  • Also let us clear the way for the cleanest and safest form of electric power. NUCLEAR POWER plant needs to be built NOW>

  • Not a huge fan of continuing with oil. I have researched Fuel cells and believe this the way to go.
    However, if we can produce enough oil from coal to eliminate our dependence on Venezuela and the Middle east then lets do it! YESTERDAY! When the middle east drops its price then we should still keep producing it here until the middle east can barely give their oil away. Lets get the economy going with these plants and the jobs they will produce instead of wasting funds on government tax rebates or whatever they are calling it these days!

    -Neil Mantle

  • its an amazing idea!!!! but remember that the united states doese not depend on middle east oil as much as the genral public thinks. the only reason we defend the oil reservs as much as we do is because the rest of the world depends on M.E. oil. and since our economy is linked to the economy of the rest of the world we would have to provide the rest of the world w/ our “coal oil” to preven from a complete economic colapse. also dont forget that our government loves to tax its citizens and this will just give them another thing to tax. but if somehow we can make it work why not

  • I read an article the other day that said that an American company was already building a factory in China to convert coal to oil. The same article said that the Phillipino’s are also building one. Do you know anything about this?

  • The use of coal to makeoil is a great idea….it can’t happen soon enough for the sake of national security and the economy…it worked for the Germans in WWII. It can work for us….

  • Sasol of South Africa has been converting coal to transportation fuel products for at least 20 years. I’m not sure if they are using the direct route or if they are gasifying first and then converting to HC liquids.

    Another point: Mobil developed a process to convert natural gas to gasoline and a commercial plant was built in New Zealand more than 20 years ago by Bechtel.

  • If you do a little research into Rentech, you’ll see that the company has been around since 1991 and hasn’t managed a profitable quarter in the last four years. That says something about the economic viability of their methods, at least with oil under $77/barrel like it was in 2007. While coal could serve as a small part of the solution to our longer term energy needs, it’s neither a quick fix, nor as cheap as oil in the 1980s and 1990s. Getting the refineries in place to manufacture could take a minimum of five years, but more realistically, 7-10 years to produce perhaps 15-20% of our energy needs.

    As for the environmental consequences, estimates are that it would produce 2.3x as much CO2/gallon than gasoline. Whether you believe in global warming or you don’t isn’t something I could convince you of in a single reply, but it’s certainly concerning to me.

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