Memo to Air Force: Stop misleading the public on liquid coal

TO: William Anderson, assistant Air Force secretary

FROM: Climate Progress, blog

SUBJECT: Your nonsensical claims in a recent Reuters piece, “US Air Force Eyes Alternative Fuel, Slashing CO2.”

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Liquid coal cannot be part of a plan to “zero out” the Air Force’s carbon output — contrary to your repeated claims.

BACKGROUND: The following press release masquerading as a genuine news story appeared this week:

The world’s most powerful air force is seeking to wean itself from foreign oil and nearly zero out its carbon dioxide output as part of a sweeping alternative energy drive, a senior Pentagon official said on Friday.

Well, that certainly would be big news, if it were actually true. The press release story continues:

By early 2011, the US Air Force aims to make sure its entire fleet of bombers, fighters, transports and other aircraft can use a domestically produced 50-50 blend of synthetic and petroleum-based fuel.

William Anderson, an assistant Air Force secretary, said the goal was to reduce energy demand, look for cleaner power sources and to reuse captured carbon commercially, for instance to enhance the growth of biofuels or improve oil well production.

We can get ourselves very close to a zero carbon footprint,” said Anderson ahead of talks on the issue with counterparts in Britain and France next month.

“Not today. Not tomorrow. But maybe a decade or so down the road,” he told a briefing at the State Department’s Foreign Press Center.

Anderson said the Air Force’s economic clout as a purchaser could help promote sources of power that do not add to emissions of greenhouse gases. Such gases trap heat in the atmosphere.

So the question is, what alternative/synthetic fuel does not add to emissions of GHGs? Amazingly, the story continues:

Anderson said the effort on synthetic jet fuel had been spurred by the 2006 challenge to the nation from President Bush to wean itself from its “addiction” to imported oil. Oil supplies are diminishing, Anderson said.

Who knew the Administration had bought into claims that oil supplies have already peaked? You’d never know it from any of their policies … but I digress.

On Monday, a C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft, workhorse of the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the military’s biggest user of jet fuel, flew for the first time with a coal-derived synthetic blend as the only fuel on board.

Anderson said jet fuel from coal produced 1.8 times more carbon dioxide between production and consumption as jet fuel from oil, but he said most of that additional amount could be captured during production of the synthetic fuel.

Liquid coal? Are you serious? Apparently so:

Coal was abundant in United States and renewable energy sources could not meet growing energy demands. “Coal is going to play big in the future, we believe, based on all projections,” said Anderson, assistant secretary for installations, environment and logistics….

“We believe that we have to find an environmentally friendly way to mine coal and to burn coal,” he said. “We believe the technology is very close, and we believe that an organization with the market size and presence of the United States Air Force can help move technology forward to make coal a much cleaner and greener alternative across the board.”

DISCUSSION: So you are aware that liquid coal releases much more GHGs than regular jet fuel. And you are apparently aware that in the unlikely event somebody actually captures the CO2 from the production process and finds a place to permanently store it — it would still have the exact same GHG emissions as regular jet fuel.

So the question is — how could liquid coal possibly be part of an Air Force strategy to “nearly zero out its carbon dioxide output” and “promote sources of power that do not add to emissions of greenhouse gases”?

[Hint: It can’t!]

CONCLUSION: Liquid coal cannot be part of a plan to “zero out” the Air Force’s carbon output. It could be part of a plan to “dramatically increase” the Air Force’s carbon output or, possibly, to leave it unchanged. Neither is a strategy worth spending a nickel on. Either you are very confused yourself, or intentionally confusing the public. Neither is good.


  1. Learn the truth or start telling it.
  2. Do not refer to liquid coal as “alternative energy” — coal is pretty much the same old energy.
  3. Do not reinfer to liquid coal as “a much … greener alternative” — it ain’t (except on Bizarro World).
  4. Given your ability to take what should be a bad news story and get it covered as a good news story, you might consider an assignment to the White House.

NOTE TO REUTERS: In the future, please check your facts and/or seek alternative views than the Air Force.

cc: Jim Wolf, Reuters

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9 Responses to Memo to Air Force: Stop misleading the public on liquid coal

  1. obewan says:

    Liquid coal made with carbon sequestration is as clean or cleaner than conventional fuels. Carbon sequestration has already been proven at Kinder Morgan in TX where over 1 billion cu-ft of co2 is captured daily and pumped underground for storage forever. Our conventional fuel supply will be entirely gone by 2050, with severe shortages of epic proportions happening way before that. Ethanol and bio-diesel will never take up the slack. We need to be open to all options if we expect the human race to survive. Even if liquid coal were to add to global warming (which it won’t with carbon seqestration), it might be moot because we will starve before global warming becomes an issue if we don’t use it.

  2. Ted says:

    When you argued that the Air Force could not zero out emissions in the future, did you consider the bases where wind and solar are being implemented? It would seem to be theoretically possible that between renewable energy production at installations and using some fraction of fuel from biomass (whether it be coal biomass mix or pure biomass based farther down the road), the Air Force could reach zero. Are you arguing that this is impossible?

  3. Joe says:

    It is impossible if they use liquid coal.
    It is not necessarily impossible if they use biofuels.

  4. says:

    It’s good to hear BP & GM talk about alternative fuels, but 50 years to implement is too long.

    Perhaps this link will spark more attention:

    It is GM’s electric concept car the Chevy Volt. If more people begin to demand alternative fuel cars, we should be able to speed the rate at which the technology is developed.

    We have started an Investor Forum where Investors can meet and discuss topics like this:

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    The company supplying the Air Force with FT jet fuel has carbon sequestration built into their process. CO2 is in high demand for end stage oil recovery from old oil fields (that’s why the oil companies have started making nice about CO2 sequestration – they see a way to force the coal companies to provide the CO2 they want for oil field stripping…)

    Yes, burning the jet fuel releases the same CO2 as oil derived fuel. To get to zero footprint they will need an offset – kind of like AlGore does… Why throw rocks at them for moving away from OPEC and working on CO2 capture?

    BTW, the Navy also has a program to recycle their used cooking oil into biodiesel. It eliminates that hauling in of that much petroleum diesel AND the disposal of the cooking oil. It’s a significant effort.

    We ought to be encouraging these folks in their efforts, not chucking rocks at them. If they want to, the Air Force could also feed their trash and other biomass to the FT process rather than coal. That may be their end game. Prove it out on cheap easy to get coal, then cut over to biomass and trash over time. No, this isn’t speculation. I’ve seen an Army request for bid for a trash to electricity system. The military is very interested in a zero footprint for trash and for fuels, or as close to it as they can get.

    I’ll believe in the Volt when I see them on sale. Remember the EV1 melt down?

  6. Earl Killian says:

    E.M. Smith, what EV1 melt down? GM leased every EV1 they made and then wrote letters to the thousands on the waiting list to say there were no more. When the leases were up, they refused to renew the leases, but instead took the cars away from drivers who begged to keep them. GM then crushed them. Had GM advertised and sold the vehicle in all 50 states, and produced the vehicles year after year, it could have had much larger volumes. It didn’t want to; it wanted to destroy any evidence of the EV1’s existence. They’ve changed their mind recently.

  7. AL Gore Not says:

    Add up all the remarks on this subject and it comes down to one thing. CTO is not owned by the USA. We, private companies have a few patents and they have proven that the product of CTO will run the AF, Army, Marines, and Navy for a century, if the world survives that long.

    So if the old USA doesn’t produce oil from coal, we will buy the product from China or somm other country because we have so many dumb asses who just write so they can read themselves.

    Make the oil and work on CO2 later. By the way dont we get CO2 from cow patties?

  8. JSit says:

    What do you propose as an alternative?

  9. coal to liquids plant is cheaper to build than most other alternative fuel plants but more costly than a conventional oil refinery. The capital cost of coal to liquids plants is expected to decrease through the ongoing development of technology.