There is one thing the coal industry deserves credit for: they are persistent. Now that everyone is touting national security from every direction and trying to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, the coal industry has stepped in with the perfect solution, put coal in your gas tank! The technology is called coal-to-liquid, first developed by the Nazis and then later used by South Africa during Apartheid. Do you see a pattern? This fuel is for people who don’t care about human beings!
At a recent Energy Conference hosted by LSU, Bill Anderson, CEO of Anderson Global Innovation Group, offered up coal-to-liquids as the right solution to our transportation and electricity problems. Here are a few gems from his presentation:
Bill Anderson: We can become energy independent if we switch coal from the electricity sector and use it to supply our nation’s transportation fuel needs. Nuclear power can fill the gap for our electrical demands.
Reality Check: Over half of our electricity comes from burning coal (315,000 megawatts). We would have to build a whole lot of nuclear power plants to meet that kind of demand which would take billions of dollars, many years to achieve, and the construction would greatly increase global warming pollution. Furthermore, switching to nuclear power does nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy since we import most of the uranium we currently use (Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan are the largest producers).
BA: Coal-to-liquids is clean.
RC: Coal is full of impurities which are released at both the extraction and manufacturing processes. While these impurities were once safely stored inside a scenic mountain, the extracted coal releases toxic mercury, sulfur, carbon, and other dangerous pollutants into our surrounding environment that contribute to acid rain, childhood asthma, and global warming. The EPA states that replacing petroleum with liquid coal would increase global warming pollution 119%. If you catch the emissions, global warming pollution still increases by 4%. Then, the captured global warming pollution must be permanently stored, which is expensive.
BA: Coal-to-liquids is efficient.
RC: This process creates 2 waste streams – 1st the coal must be turned into a liquid which creates waste and takes energy and 2nd the waste that is created from burning fuel in the vehicle. According to the Department of Energy’s 2006 report “Emerging Issues for Fossil Energy and Water: Investigation of Water Issues Related to Coal Mining, Coal to Liquids, Oil Shale, and Carbon Capture and Sequestration” a coal-to-liquid plant needs approximately seven gallons of water for every gallon of diesel fuel produced from eastern coal. How much available fresh, cool water will be on hand as the planet warms is anybody’s guess. It seems logical though that as air temperatures rise and rain patterns shift, coal-to-liquid plants might face water shortages that put them at odds with residential and agricultural consumers.
BA: We can perfect the technology and then export it to China and India.
RC: We should be putting our research dollars into harnessing local, clean, and limitless resources, like solar and wind power. We can export that technology. Energy from coal is inherently limited because the supply of coal is finite. It is a waste of money to fund research into utilizing a resource that will run out.
There is a coal-to-liquid plant coming soon to Natchez, Mississippi. I sincerely hope that the federal and state regulatory agencies in charge will carefully consider the availability of current and future surface and groundwater sources, agricultural and residential water consumers, and the environmental impact of the plant’s wastewater discharge and global warming pollution before permitting this experimental coal-to-liquid plant!
Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.