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.

“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.


no name

this process is way too expensive. The oil prices would have to go over $200 per a barell for this to be put into action. Not only that, to start this on a massive scale (to replace regular imported oil) would cost billions, if not trillions of dollars (to build new plants, treatment plants and storage plants). This might take place but not anywhere in the near future, infact by then the US domestic dept will pull to a halt all futher projects (such as this one for example).

greg harman

military tech often slimes out into the public sector in ways later recognized as supporting the “public good” and a “humming” economy. We can all huddle around and watch China and India’s standard of living catch our own as the world reaps the possibly fatal consequences of middleclassdom for another frail slice of humanity.

if we are going to hitch our new-model ponies to coal for fuel, we better at a bare minimum address the terms of that extraction and end the wholesale slaughter of entire mountain ranges and local economies ala Appalachia.

while some would trade the carbon question for a humming economy, others are warning of rapid climate change as our ocean and earth run out of capacity to store that carbon. any coal or petro solution must be seen for what they are: stopgaps, not sustainable (survivable).

unfortunately, rogue states are no match for the canadian tar sands and softening permafrost when it comes to long-term global impacts. the sooner we understand that the better.


My own priorities are:

1) Sufficient energy supplies and reasonable prices to keep our economy going
2) Elimination of our dependency on foreign energy sources, particularly those from areas of questionable dependenability,
3) Reduction in carbon emissions

I will HAPPILY accept short term solutions to #1 and #2 that don’t do much for (or even slow progress on) #3 knowing that in the long run these three goals converge. Coal-to-Liquids? Bring it on!

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