From Technology Review today, news of new research from Penn State on liquid fuel from coal:
Schobert and his colleagues make the fuel using refined coal oil, which is a byproduct of coke manufacture; the byproduct is mixed at an oil refinery with a product of crude oil called light cycle oil. This mix is then hydrogenated using equipment that already exists at refineries, and then it’s distilled into various products — mostly diesel fuel and jet fuel (about 40 percent of each), as well as some gasoline and heating oil.
Other potential benefits of the coal-based fuel: it can replace the three or four different jet fuels used by the military for aircraft and missiles, and the same fuel can be used in diesel engines if those engines are modified slightly. The fuel could also be used without modification in high-temperature stationary fuel cells for generating electricity, Schobert says.
But significant hurdles remain before the fuel can see widespread use. So far, only 500 gallons of it have been produced, far too little to assess production costs, Schobert says. Nevertheless, he suspects that the coal-based fuel could compete with other fuels.
One interesting thing about this development is its lack of asset specificity on the production and consumption end; it can be produced using existing refining technologies, and can be used in diesel engines with only a small amount of adjustment. That lack of asset specificity means that this fuel could contribute to a more flexible and adaptable fuel portfolio, because it doesn’t require customized plants or engines. It can even be used in fuel cells.