Synthetic Crude Oil from Coal

With continuing forcasts about the limited life of the world's oil reserves, alternative fuels are being considered.

Liquid fuels derived from coal could be major contributors to the replacement of oil, because coal reserves are much larger than those of oil.

The process of making liquid fuels from coal is called 'Coal Liquefaction', and the process has operated in certain areas for many years, e.g. the SASOL plants in South Africa.

There are many different methods of coal liquefaction. Because of the wide variety of coal composition it is likely that no single process will turn out to be superior to the others.

The cost of synthetic fuel from coal is greater than the oil equivalent, mainly as a result of inflation and coal feedstock following oil up in price. Estimates fifty years ago suggested a synthetic/oil cost of 2:1. This dropped to about 125:1 during the 1970s.

During the last couple of years the crude oil price has been very volatile for political reasons. We have seen $130 per barrel and $40 per barrel. At the lower price, customers for syncrude disappear.

Before the recent volatility, syncrude was selling for around $50 per barrel. The current crude oil price is about $40 so the ratio syncrude/crude is about 12:1.

ND, habitat21.

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