Producing Liquid Fuels from Coal: Prospects and Policy Issues

Overview

Record world oil prices have prompted renewed interest in producing liquid fuels from coal. The United States leads the world in recoverable coal reserves. Moreover, the technology for converting coal to liquid fuels already exists, and production costs appear competitive at prices well below current levels. Yet, despite its promise, private investment in coal-to-liquids (CTL) is being impeded by three uncertainties: where oil prices are heading, what it actually costs to produce coal-derived fuels, and how ...
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Producing Liquid Fuels from Coal: Prospects and Policy Issues

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Overview

Record world oil prices have prompted renewed interest in producing liquid fuels from coal. The United States leads the world in recoverable coal reserves. Moreover, the technology for converting coal to liquid fuels already exists, and production costs appear competitive at prices well below current levels. Yet, despite its promise, private investment in coal-to-liquids (CTL) is being impeded by three uncertainties: where oil prices are heading, what it actually costs to produce coal-derived fuels, and how greenhouse-gas emissions will be regulated. A domestic CTL industry could produce as much as 3 million barrels per day of transportation fuels by 2030. Having such an industry would yield important energy-security benefits, most notably a lowering of world oil prices and a decrease in wealth transfers from oil users to oil producers. But establishing a large CTL industry also raises important policy and environmental issues associated with climate change, coal mining, and water consumption. Weighing both benefits and costs, it makes sense for the United States to pursue an insurance, or hedge, strategy that promotes the early construction and operation of a limited number of commercial CTL plants and that establishes the foundation for managing associated greenhouse-gas emissions, both in a way that reduces uncertainties and emphasizes future capabilities.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780833045119
  • Publisher: RAND Corporation
  • Publication date: 12/4/2008
  • Pages: 198
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

James T. Bartis (Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is a senior policy analyst at RAND.
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Table of Contents

Preface iii

Figures xi

Tables xiii

Summary xv

Acknowledgments xxvii

Abbreviations xxix

Chapter 1 Introduction 1

About This Book 2

Chapter 2 The Coal Resource Base 5

The Adequacy of the U.S. Coal Resource Base 6

The Distribution of U.S. Coal Reserves and Production 9

Coal Variability 10

Mine Size 12

Policy Implications of the Coal Resource Base 12

Chapter 3 Coal-to-Liquids Technologies 15

The Fischer-Tropsch Coal-to-Liquids Approach 15

The Methanol-to-Gasoline Coal-to-Liquids Approach 23

The Direct Coal Liquefaction Approach 26

Baseline Greenhouse-Gas Emissions from Production of Coal-Derived Liquid Fuels 31

Carbon Capture and Sequestration 32

Alternative Carbon-Management Options 37

Technical Viability and Commercial Readiness 41

Production Costs 42

Timeline for Coal-to-Liquids Development 46

Chapter 4 Other Unconventional Fuels 49

Commercially Ready Unconventional Fuels 50

Emerging Unconventional Fuels 52

Summary 57

Chapter 5 Benefits of Coal-to-Liquids Development 59

Economic Profits 60

Reductions in the World Price of Oil 61

National Security Benefits 66

Improved Petroleum Supply Chain 67

Oil-Supply Disruption Benefits 68

Employment Benefits 69

Confounding or Inconclusive Arguments 70

The Economic Value of a Domestic Coal-to-Liquids Industry 71

Chapter 6 Critical Policy Issues for Coal-to-Liquids Development 73

Environmental Impacts of Coal-to-Liquids Production 73

Impediments to Private-Sector Investment 81

Chapter 7 Designing Incentives to Encourage Private Investment 85

Designing an Effective Long-Term Public-Private Relationship 86

Assessing Financial Effects Under Conditions of Uncertainty88

Findings and Policy Implications 91

Promoting Competition 100

Summary 101

Chapter 8 Moving Forward with a Coal-to-Liquids Development Effort 103

Prevailing Uncertainties 103

The Military Perspective 104

Federal Policy Options 106

An Insurance Policy 109

Air Force Options for Coal-to-Liquids Industrial Development 113

Scoping Federal Efforts: How Much Is Enough? 117

A Stable Framework for Reducing World Oil Prices 118

Appendixes

A Cost-Estimation Methodology and Assumptions 119

B Greenhouse-Gas Emissions: Supporting Analysis 123

C A Model of the Global Liquid-Fuel Market 137

References 155

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