An energy company in China is planning to open a plant that will turn coal into a synthetic fuel for cars and airplanes.
The synthetic diesel is known as “Nazi fuel” because the technology was developed by the Germans during World War II.
The plant, run by the Shenhua Corporation, will be based in Inner Mongolia. China hopes to use the synthetic fuel to reduce its dependence on foreign oil exports. The Chinese government believes this will be the first of many such plants. The plant will be the first dedicated synthetic diesel plant in the world when it opens sometime in the next month, although several other countries may not be far behind
Both the United States and India are putting major resources into the technology. Japan, Australia, Indonesia and several others are either planning or studying a potential synthetic diesel plant. Coal companies are promoting the technology as an alternative to dependence on foreign oil. Rising oil prices have also made the coal-based fuel attractive, as it costs significantly less than the nearly $100 per barrel oil currently commands.
The fuel faces opposition on environmental issues, however. And that “Nazi fuel” nickname is not the only dark mark on the technology either. Apartheid-era South Africa got around oil restrictions imposed for its racist policies by building three synthetic diesel plants. They still provide around 1/3 of the country’s energy.
Environmentalists are angered by the plans, saying synthetic fuels will only serve to increase global warming effects and carbon dioxide emissions. Environmental campaigners have argued for increasing fuel efficiency and more research into sustainable fuels instead.
Nick Rau of Friends of the Earth said: “We have great concerns about the rush to develop new sources of energy-intensive energies such as synthetic fuels from coal. We know they are technically feasible and it looks like they are going to happen, unless more people emphasise the sustainable options available.”
A World Coal Institute spokesman admitted the process was very carbon dioxide intensive, but brushed off the environmental problem by saying that the carbon could be captured and stored underground, a process that is still very experimental. Successful carbon capture technology is not predicted for several more decades according to the UN’s IPCC. The process of turning coal into diesel produces much more carbon dioxide than creating fuel from oil. The US Department of Energy estimated that coal-to-diesel fuels would produce 20% more CO2 emissions even AFTER carbon capture technology was used.
Info from Guardian