"Liquid coal means liquid problems"
I haven’t been posting as much as I usually do, since I have been preparing testimony for the Congressional hearing on Wednesday. The committee has finally posted details of the hearing here. It should be a rousing debate. At least I won’t be all alone on the anti-CTL side.
In the course of preparing, one of Climate Progress’s readers sent me some high-quality information on the high level of water use in the liquid coal process, which I though I’d share. The key factoid is five to seven gallons of water are necessary for every gallon of diesel fuel that’s produced (and double that if you coproduce diesel fuel and electricity from coal).
This comes from a very useful report: “Emerging Issues for Fossil Energy and Water” by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. The key chart is (click on it for a clearer image):
GPM is gallons per minute, Bgal is billions of gallon, BPSD is barrels per steam day (whatever a “steam day” is), and I think 42 gallons per barrel (that’s what it is for oil, anyway). Ed Markey (D-MA) put this all in layman’s language on Grist:
Liquid coal is also incredibly expensive and resource-intensive to create, with small returns compared to the amount of energy and the immense number of new industrial plants needed to create it. Even setting aside the environmental impacts of coal mining, the water resources needed for this sort of undertaking would be staggering: 4.6 billion gallons per year of liquid fuels from coal would require between 21 and 60 billion gallons of water per year. To give some perspective, 60 billion gallons could fill 90,850 Olympic sized swimming pools.
There has been much buzz that new CTL processes would use less water. The hearing’s CTL/water expert — Dr. Richard D. Boardman, The Secure Energy Initiative Head, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID — will hopefully clear that up.
The bottom line is that CTL is not a particularly smart long-term strategy for a nation and a world facing mega-droughts and chronic water shortages from human-caused climate change.