Fischer-Tropsch Fuels from Coal, Natural Gas, and Biomass: Background and Policy [Updated March 27, 2008]   [open pdf - 250KB]

From the Summary: "As the price of crude oil sets a record high, liquid transportation fuels synthesized from coal, natural gas, and biomass are proposed as one solution to reducing dependency on imported petroleum and strained refinery capacity. The technology to do so developed from processes that directly and indirectly convert coal into liquid fuel. Congress now faces decisions on whether, and to what extent, it should support such a solution. Lacking domestic petroleum resources, but abundant in coal, Germany built synthetic fuel plants during World War II that employed the Bergius coal hydrogenation process (direct liquefaction), and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (indirect). The United States attempted to capitalize on the German experience after World War II. Despite considerable investment in synthetic fuel research and development, the United States cut support for commercialization when crude oil prices dropped and supplies stabilized in the mid-1980s. Since then, several synthetic fuels plants have been constructed around the world that convert coal, natural gas, or biomass to liquid fuels using the Fischer-Tropsch process. […] In order for a synthetic fuels industry (whether coal, natural gas, or biomass based) to begin rivaling or even supplanting conventional petroleum refining, a major shift in transportation mode toward diesel engine light-passenger vehicles would have to occur. Coal-to-liquids would also compete for the same resources needed for electric power generation, and the rail capacity currently supporting their demand. Recent energy legislation promotes research on capturing and storing greenhouse gas emissions and improving vehicle fuel efficiency, among other goals. Fisher-Tropsch fuels present the paradox of high carbon emissions associated with production versus lower carbon emissions associated with their use."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL34133
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