TodayApril 17, 2022

Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) in Montana

Diversifying engines and fuel

John Batchelor and Lou Ann Hammond talk with Montana’s Governor Brian Schweitzer about coal-to-liquids (CTL) using Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC).

Syntroleum’s CTL pilot plant

According to R.L. Polk, the United States has over 220 million gas engines on the roads today, a little over 5 million diesel engines and 4 million flex-fuel vehicles. Clearly, in order to diversify our fuels, we have to diversify our engines. Yet, according to Marilyn Radler, Senior Editor of Oil and Gas Journal, America uses almost 3million barrels per day or 126 million gallons of diesel per day.

General Motors has spearheaded the move to diversify its engines into flex-fuel vehicles and to create an energy source to compliment that vehicle. To date, there are about 700 E85, less than 2 percent, pumps out of almost 170,000 gas stations in the United States. We need something faster, we need something now, something with an infrastructure.

Diesel is well known in the United States. Thanks to our truckers about 30 percent of the gas stations in America have a diesel pump station in them. Is there a possibility America could manufacture its own diesel fuel, just as we are trying to create our own gasoline?

According to Governor Brian Schweitzer, (D-Montana) America can and Schweitzer is spearheading his state’s road to energy independence, through what is commonly known as black gold.

On January 3, 2005, Schweitzer became the 23rd governor of Montana. Schweitzer studied agronomy and soil science in college. According to his biography, “After graduation, Brian and Nancy (formerly Hupp) began a career of irrigation development that took them to Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. He has built hundreds of miles of roads, poured thousands of yards of concrete, buried many miles of pipe, and built hundreds of structures, from houses to warehouses to distillation plants. During seven years in Saudi Arabia, Brian developed over 28,000 acres of irrigated cropland.”

Schweitzer says that Montana has 120 billion tons of coal reserves, about a third of the US total. The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal and has a lot more coal than Russia (the second-largest reserves), which is far ahead again of China, which has already started CTL, and India (which also have big reserves). Governor Schweitzer likes this idea, “Montanas 120 Billion tons of coal can produce 240 billion gallons of gas. Montana, alone, could fuel America’s needs for 35 years with just our coal. ”

According to John Grasser, spokesperson for the Office of Fossil Energy, under the Presidents Clean Coal Power Initiative, a $2 billion, 10-year effort to advance technologies that can help meet the Nations growing demand for low-cost electricity while protecting the environment. In February 2006, The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $235 million to Southern Company, in partnership with the Orlando Utilities Commission and Kellogg, Brown, and Root, to develop one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the world. Schweitzer could see a commercially developed plant by Kellogg, Brown and Root, a division of Halliburton, building the plant. There are a couple of ways to go from there. A company like Southern could use Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC). IGCC is a power generation system that produces synthesis gas (syngas), converted from coal by a partial oxidation process and then burned to generate electricity from syngas. Polygeneration could be used to create multiple uses such as electricity and liquid, in the form of diesel fuel. IGCC technology has become popular because it produces gas that is as clean as natural gas from inferior fuels.

From there, there are two major players that are spearheading turning syngas into diesel fuel; Sasol or Shell GTL. According to Schweitzer, last August Sasol, the South African oil company that had a petroleum plant in Lake Charles, LA, visited Montana. Schweitzer explained to Sasol that Montana was very secure, meaning that the place Montana had its powder river basin coal was not in a tornado belt, that Montana had no hurricanes. Schweitzer explained that the synfuel would be produced in Montana, therefore there would be little shipping and the value of fuel goes up as you move from the Gulf coast to the center of the United States.

There are some big companies that produce, or are working on, coal-to-liquids; Sasol, a South African oil company has used the Fischer-Tropsch technology for years, is working with companies in western China. Syntroleum, a company that originated as an R&D group through the DOE, based in Tulsa, OK, is working with a company in Brisbane, Australia. Shell GTL, an oil company that has a gas-to-liquids (GLT) plant in Malaysia is working with companies in China with CTL.

Schweitzer believes the best way to get this started is to have the government put a floor price of $1 a gallon on gas for ten years. This would give companies time to build the plants and get them up to maximum capacity. Schweitzer says that it would take 5 years from now if they had a company willing to build today. He also said that the Department of Defense has said they would buy all the synfuel the country could provide and that the Navy, just the other day, tendered an offer for 13,000 barrels of synfuel per day.

Our government still needs to impress upon our Federal EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to settle on one diesel engine regulation so that auto manufacturers can figure out engine technology and bring diesel engines back to America?

Diversifying our fuels and our engines are the key to getting off the dependence of foreign oil.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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