Coal can be made into a liquid fuel, leading some to speculate that America’s “vast” reserves of coal might be used to substitute for petroleum.
There are a few problems with this notion.
First, recent surveys have shown that U.S. coal reserves are considerably smaller than the older estimate of a “200 year supply.” (See also: Energy Watch Group, “Coal: Resources and Future Production;” Richard Heinberg, “Burning the Furniture;” Chris Nelder, “The Dirt on Coal;” Climate Progress, “Are We Approaching Peak Coal? Part 1.”)
Second, the carbon footprint of CTL is about as bad as burning fossil fuels gets. Political pressure to reduce carbon emissions will make it difficult for CTL to scale to any significant level.
Most importantly, CTL doesn’t exist in commercial quantities. In its Annual Energy Outlook 2010, the EIA estimates that CTL will rise from 0.00136 mbpd (1,360 barrels per day) in 2011 to 0.24 mbpd by 2035. CTL seems destined to remain a bit player in the liquid fuel regime.
Michael Webber, “Coal-to-Liquids: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly“