West Virginia Department of Commerce Coal to Liquids

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Coal to Liquids

COAL-BASED FUELS: Biomass adds renewable component
By Kelly Bragg

The same scenic beauty that draws tourists to the state of West Virginia also attracts the development of new and innovative ideas for providing alternatives to imported petroleum.

The rich green carpeting of trees rolling over West Virginia’s hills offers a peaceful background for hikers and bikers and can help fuel the nation’s vehicles and power plants. Combined with the coal that powers West Virginia’s economy, wood and crops known collectively as biomass can be turned into a gas or a fuel.

The state of West Virginia advances coal-biomass-to-liquids (CBTL) projects as an alternative to imported petroleum. These clean coal projects will demonstrate the overall enhanced environmental performance of liquids from coal when compared to conventional petroleum products.

“CBTL projects are complex and touch a number of different aspects of West Virginia’s economy,” said Kelley Goes, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce. “West Virginia has knowledge and expertise in mining and energy, forestry and wood products as well as geology, all of which are tapped when we consider the development of these projects.”

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere when biomass dies. The same thing occurs when biomass is turned into a gas. Biomass offsets this release because its components -- plants and trees -- remove CO2 during their life cycle. Biomass as a fuel source for gasification is termed carbon neutral because its natural growth offsets the CO2 released when it dies or is gasified.

Beyond its importance in reducing CO2 when it is used as a component of fuel manufacturing, biomass offers modern production yet another benefit: today’s gasification systems that accommodate coal can also use biomass. This reduces or eliminates costs to producers while offering environmental benefits.

West Virginia also advances what is known as carbon sequestration: techniques for permanently storing CO2 underground.

“Almost any clean coal project done today will include disposing of the CO2 to address concerns with greenhouse gas emissions,” said Michael Ed. Hohn, director of the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey and the state geologist. “Putting CO2 underground, which still faces some scientific review and research, is not that dissimilar to storing methane or natural gas underground, processes that are already familiar and well-tested. West Virginia has received U.S. Department of Energy funding for several years for carbon sequestration study.”

Renewable resources have a major role to play in the development of liquid fuels from coal, enhancing the environmental performance of the traditional coal-to-liquids process. West Virginia is uniquely positioned to merge its abundant and renewable resources with its well-established coal industry, easing the nation’s dependence on foreign sources of petroleum.