Sunday, April 16, 2006

Coal the new black is to return as major transport fuel.

Professor Alan Goldman and his Rutgers team in collaboration with researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a way to convert carbon sources, such as coal to diesel fuel.

This important advance could significantly cut America's dependence on foreign oil – what President Bush called "an addiction" in his 2006 State of the Union address. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, our 286 billion tons of coal in the ground translate into energy reserves 40 times those of oil.

Goldman explained that the breakthrough technology employs a pair of catalytic chemical reactions that operate in tandem, one of which captured the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This dynamic chemical duo revamps the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process for generating synthetic petroleum substitutes, invented in 1920 but never developed to the point of becoming commercially viable for coal conversion.

The researchers combined this process with the action of a second catalyst, one which promotes olefin metathesis, for which the 2005 Nobel Prize was awarded. Metathesis means "to change places" and, here, the double-bonding atom groups change places with one another. Through this reaction, the second catalyst rearranges the molecular weight distribution of the olefins. The first catalyst then replaces the hydrogen atoms onto the new rearranged olefins; this returns the olefins back to their original hydrocarbon form, but now with a new, more desirable weight distribution.

The FT process which is economic at around 43us per barrel oil equivalent gives NZ a transport self suffienciency for around 500 years.

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