With or Without Carbon Capture, Coal-to-Liquids Are Climate Change Disaster

beijing pollution photo

Want to reduce pollution and fight climate change? Coal-to-liquid fuel won't do it. Photo: Addictive Picasso via flickr

In addition to all of the oral presentations and the Copenhagen Climate Congress over the past couple of days, there were dozens of poster presentations. These are just what they sound like, a large poster summarizing a piece of research. One which caught my eye, in light of all the recent talk about clean coal and carbon capture and storage was from Daniel Vallentin of the Wuppertal Institute's Future Energy and Mobility Structures research group.

Vallentin looked at whether CCS could ever make coal-to-liquids fuels compatible with the goal of reducing carbon emissions. The short answer is not hardly. Here are the details of why:Coal-to-Liquid Fuels = 3-13 Times the Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Without CCS the well-to-tank greenhouse gas emissions of CTL fuel are 13 times higher than petroleum-based diesel, Vallentin found. With CCS, those emissions are still 3 times those of conventional diesel fuel.

Vallentin looked at the environmental impact of coal-to-liquids (CTL) diffusion into the United States and China until 2030 and concluded that both in the US and China, increased used of CTL fuels, both with and without carbon capture would significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Three Different Scenarios Examined
Exactly how much depends upon how much CTL gets into the marketplace and whether CCS is used or not: Vallentin looked at projections of CTL's potential diffusion from the EIA (reference case and high oil price scenarios) and the Southern States Energy Board for the United States; for China three scenarios from the IEA were used (reference case, alternative energy and high growth scenarios).

In both nations though, the amount of CTL diffusion increases in each of those scenarios, ultimately it would be a small part of the US's energy mix and a "niche technology" in China.

In all cases the amount of greenhouse gas emissions would increase
In the US, greenhouse gas emissions from CTL without CCS could reach 2,175 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year (compared to a bit over 7,076 million tons in 2006). With carbon capture, that figure would still be 500 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year, three times that of conventional diesel fuel.

In China, CTL without CCS would emit a hair under 505 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year (compared to 7,527 million tons in 2006). With carbon capture, the emissions would be 116.3 million tons.

So, in other words, if you need another reason to get down on the idea of clean coal (and in particular what TreeHugger once called the "stupid fuel") here it is.

More: Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
US Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Facility Plan Dropped by Air Force
Increased Coal-to-Liquids Fuel Usage Will Accelerate Climate Breaking Point
Score One for the Stupid Fuel: Ohio Coal-to-Liquids Fuel Plant Gets Final Permitting

Related Content on Treehugger.com