Turning Coal into Ultraclean Fuels
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In August 2008 Congressmen Hal Rogers and Geoff Davis announced $1.46 million in federal funds to support research at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) to refine coal and biomass into liquid transportation fuels.

The funding will advance ongoing research into the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process by allowing the center to build a “mini-refinery.”

Discovered by two German scientists in the 1920s, the FT process uses a catalyst (a reaction accelerator) to convert syngas to hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons come out of the FT reactor as wax that is “cracked” (long molecules are chemically broken into shorter ones) to yield 20 percent low-quality gasoline and 80 percent high-quality diesel. FT diesel is cleaner than traditional petroleum diesel because nitrogen and sulfur are removed in the process, resulting in fewer undesirable emissions.

The mini-refinery will allow CAER to convert syngas through the FT process, with a research focus on new products such as chemicals, increasing process efficiencies and reducing the overall carbon footprint of the process. The refinery will be capable of producing 0.5 barrels a day of finished products, which will be supplied to other universities and the government for testing in a range of diesel and jet engines.

photo of Burt Davis with FT reactors

Burt Davis