Technology 3 min read

New CTL Process Makes "Clean Coal" a Possibility

A new CTL process could make coal a far more sustainable fuel in the future. | Image By Rudmer Zwerver | Shutterstock

A new CTL process could make coal a far more sustainable fuel in the future. | Image By Rudmer Zwerver | Shutterstock

Coal miners rejoice! A new iron-based catalyst allows the capture of carbon dioxide during the coal-to-liquid process, essentially making it a “cleaner” fuel.

When we bring up coal, one would think its golden age has long passed, which is relatively true, but coal isn’t going anytime soon.

Every year, the world burns 3,732 million tonnes of coal, most of it goes into firing power plants, covering a staggering 40% of the world’s energy needs.

In the U.S., the estimated recoverable reserves of coal (267 billion tons) allow it to remain minable for another 348 years.

Among fossil fuels, coal isn’t only the most polluting but also the most abundant, which adds to the coal/climate dilemma.

Now, a Sino-Dutch research team has found a way to make the conversion of coal into liquid fuels much less polluting.

Cleaner and Cheaper Coal-To-Liquid Process

Researchers from the National Institute of Clean-and-Low-Carbon Energy (NICE, Beijing) and Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), developed new catalysts that allow the capturing of CO2 in carbon conversion to liquids.

Carbon-to-Liquid (CTL) processes generate large amounts of carbon dioxide, following a set of chemical reactions, known as the FischerTropsch process, that depend on iron-based catalysts.

The problem with traditional catalysts is that they convert 30 percent of the CO to CO2. This also happens quite late in the CTL process, making it hard to capture. These unwanted amounts of carbon dioxide get released into the atmosphere and weigh on the CTL process bill.

These new iron-based catalysts promise to substantially cut operating costs of coal-to-liquid facilities and capturing the large amounts of CO2 that are generated as a byproduct of the CTL process.

“The new catalyst eliminates nearly all CO2 generation in the Fischer-Tropsch reactor. This can reduce the energy needed and the operating costs by roughly 25 million euros per year for a typical CTL plant. The CO2 that was previously released in this stage can now be removed in the preceding water-gas shift stage. That is good news, because it is much easier to capture in this stage”

Read More: How Rare Earth Elements may Make Coal Important Again

It’s noteworthy that the present study has been conducted at a European university and a Chinese research institute that are both dedicated to pushing clean coal technology. But the U.S isn’t involved in any research capacity, despite what coal means for the U.S. economy; especially under the present administration.

The Trump administration, which has removed dozens of environmental regulations, is going to extraordinary lengths in its attempt to rescue the ailing U.S. coal industry.

Last summer, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new regulatory project to help states keep hundreds of coal-fired and nuclear plants working.

Read More: New Plant Uses Carbon Capture Technology to Help Reverse Climate Change

Should the U.S. integrate a “cleaner” CTL process and keep its coal-fired plants running, or look for alternatives to phase out coal altogether?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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