Military Wants Coal to Jet Fuel, Uh-Oh

A few weeks ago, many greens jeered when Richard Branson put a little J05 biojetfuel in the tank of one of his airliners. It was not enough, others said, and at worst, it was a distracting stunt.

In the greentech world, we see the ‘problem’ as carbon dioxide emissions leading to climate chaos and the ‘solutions’ as wind, solar PV, solar thermal, plug-in electric vehicles, and a variety of energy efficiency technologies. So, a little biofuel in a jet doesn’t really send our hearts racing. It’s fine, but it’s also, well, beside the point.

But not everyone is inside the Silicon Valley bubble. This weekend, the AP wrote up a story about the idea rising in military circles of transforming coal into jet fuel, and diesel for long-distance trucking. The idea is that such a coal-to-liquids setup would reduce the need to import oil from unstable regions, while allowing the US to use the several hundred years worth of coal in American reserves.
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“We’re going to be burning fossil fuels for a long time, and there’s three times as much coal in the ground as there are oil reserves,” the Air Force Assistant Secretary William Anderson tells the AP. “Guess what? We’re going to burn coal.”

From an economic perspective, and no sustainability lens, the $5 billion price tag of a coal-to-liquids plant sounds like a great idea. But from an environmental perspective, this sort of technology makes no sense.

Unfortunately it’s not just the U.S. military that is interested in coal-to-liquid plants. At a recent cleantech investor conference, a big investor in China predicted that coal-to-liquids could be a hot play, considering the Chinese government is concerned with rising oil prices.

Just last week, we wrote about Chinese and American efforts to convert coal into feedstock for chemicals, another environmental disaster. This coal-to-liquids race between two nations with huge coal reserves is bad news.

Image courtesy of AP.

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