Nearly two decades after the United States’ synthetic fuel (synfuel) failure of the 1980’s, synfuel is viewed as a prospect to tackle climate change and emit less carbon dioxide (CO2) than oil. This new perspective, to make synfuel green is discussed in the article Energy: The Greening of Synfuels. Such a notion may only be achieved if large amounts of plant biomass along with coal and are used as the crude products and the CO2 emitted during the production of synfuels must be buried in the ground. Neither of these factors have yet to be implemented on a commercial scale however synfuel may still be a promising alternative.

The process of synfuel synthesis begins by turning coal into gas, which creates carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The resulting “syngas”,  is then treated with catalysts and converted  into products such as diesel fuel, jet fuel, or chemical feedstocks after scrubbing for pollutants. This process produces CO2 at twice the rate of making gasoline from crude oil if the  CO2 is not stored, results of which would be detrimental to the environment.  The goal is in fact to exploit this rate of CO2 emission for its storage; since the process creates a concentrated CO2 stream, the stream can simply be injected into deep underground formations. This is unique because CO2 from a standard generating plant must be separated from other flue gases (Science, 13 July 2007, p. 184).

To store the emitted CO2, the stream of CO2 must be liquified via high pressure and injected into a series of wells drilled thousands of meters into porous rocklike sandstone. The formations are capped with impermeable layers of rock, and inside the space, the liquid CO2 displaces briny liquids as it fills the pores.

Because of the overall aims and prospective carbon reductions implied by synfuel production, the synfuel industry has substantial support. Implementation of such practices to achieve such goals have not yet been successfully scaled up to commercial levels although with such an increases interest comes money and with money comes the time and discovery of new technology, so I don’t think it will be too too long for the synfuel industry to really make headway.


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