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Coal may provide "green diesel" fuel.

As U.S. oil reserves dwindle, some say the nation will have to rely on synthetic petroleum fuel made from its large stores of coal. A two-step chemical process augments a method of making cleaner-burning alternative fuel from coal and other carbon sources by transforming some of its waste products into diesel fuel, report researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick.

"Two percent of the United States' energy reserves is in oil, three percent is in gas, and 95% is in coal," notes Maurice Brookhart, professor of chemistry at UNC. "Many people in the energy sector think that, when oil starts to run out, coal will be a source of transportation fuel for some time before we perfect the science behind solar and hydrogen-based energy. Producing diesel fuels from coal is especially attractive since diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines."

The Fischer-Tropsch method of making synthetic liquid fuels from coal and other carbon sources has been used since the 1920s. Today, Fischer-Tropsch fuels power most large vehicles in South Africa; American companies have expressed interest in these fuels, which emit fewer particulates and less carbon monoxide than conventional diesel fuels. They have been termed "green diesel."

However, the cost of making Fischer-Tropsch fuels has been considered prohibitive. "But right now, with oil this expensive, I think it will soon become a competitive process to make liquid fuels," posits Brookhart.

The Fischer-Tropsch reaction creates hydrocarbon compounds called alkanes. Methane and ethane are examples of alkanes. Some of the alkanes created by Fischer-Tropsch are desirable for use as fuel, but others have low molecular weights that make them unsuitable. "The process we have developed allows us to convert more of these Fischer-Tropsch materials to usable diesel fuels," says Brookhart.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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