Far from being environmentally unfriendly, the direct coal to liquids technology to be utilized at the Domestic Synthetic Fuels facility in Mason County, West Virginia is an efficient and environmentally sound method of turning two of the Mountain State’s most abundant resources – coal and natural gas – into ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, gasoline and other products.
Technology to turn coal into liquid fuel has been known for a century, but the H-Coal process to be used in Mason County is the cleanest and most efficient method yet devised. Fuels derived from coal tend to burn cleaner than fuels derived from petroleum and are just as good for powering vehicles.
Traditional indirect methods for turning coal into fuel require burning the coal to form gases that are refined into liquids which presents the risk of combustion and resulting pollution. The H-Coal process, however, never actually burns the coal; coal and hydrogen from natural gas are combined with a catalyst under heat and pressure to directly create liquid fuel. The process is both more efficient and has a smaller environmental footprint than indirect methods.
In fact, the Domestic Synthetic Fuels facility in Mason County is considered a minor source of emissions under state and federal law. This means the facility will create emissions deemed low enough to trigger many state and federal regulations.
Many of the raw materials required for the H-Coal process are constantly recycled within the facility and self-sustaining. Most of the water used in the process, the oils that are mixed in the reactors and many other components are self-contained and will never leave the site. Most of the byproducts of the process are also salable.
As far as emissions go, minor sources of emissions under West Virginia and federal law are permitted up to 100 tons per year of nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Well below permitted levels, the Domestic Synthetic Fuels facility is expected to emit at maximum about 82 tons of nitrous oxides, 71 tons of carbon monoxide, 86 tons of volatile organic compounds, 27 tons of sulfur dioxide and between 32 and 56 tons of different particulate matter. These are the maximum amounts of emissions the facility is expected to produce; engineers for the project believe the facility will emit less.
As a point of comparison, a typical coal-fired power plant emits more than 44,000 tons of nitrous oxides a year, more than 1,440 tons of carbon monoxide, more than 200 tons of volatile organic compounds and almost 73,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, plus nearly 2,400 tons of particulate matter. In comparison, engineers predict the Domestic Synthetic Fuels facility will create only 2 percent emissions to that of a typical power plants.
Historically, refining fuel from coal produces more carbon dioxide, or CO2, than producing fuel from petroleum.
Even so, CO2 production from the Domestic Synthetic Fuels facility is expected to also be less than 2 percent of that produced by power plants.
However, the introduction of carbon capture and sequestration technology can capture the vast majority of CO2 produced by the facility and prevent it from ever being released into the atmosphere. This equipment cannot be added until the facility is complete – much like adding an aftermarket accessory to your car. Domestic Synthetic Fuels developers are exploring carbon capture technology and hope to incorporate this into the facility to further reduce the carbon footprint.