Energy 7 November, 2017 1:00 pm   
Editorial staff

Ros: Poland can make gasoline from coal

The oil crisis in 1973 gave a new start to coal liquefaction, a process of converting coal to liquid fuel. The coal liquefaction industry had earlier lost its competitiveness to oil industry after WWII. In the 90s the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically decreased the interest in coal liquefaction. The reason is that about two units of coal are needed to generate enough heat for converting one unit of coal to one unit of fuel. This means that the produced liquid fuel give rise to about three times higher emission of carbon dioxide than fuel from refined crude oil – writes Mikael Ros.

The emergence of advanced nuclear technologies, such as Molten Salt Reactors (1) and High Temperature Gas Reactor (HTGR), can provide new opportunities for coal liquefaction industry. Poland is participating in the development of HTGR that is scheduled to build the first reactor in the 2030s (2). These types of reactors can produce the required high temperature heat for the liquefaction process. Thus, the required heat will be produced by the nuclear reactor instead of burning of coal.

Furthermore, high temperature heat has many more industrial applications than just coal liquefaction. However, a conventional nuclear plants can only generate heat at about 300 °C which is neither sufficient for liquefaction process nor for many industrial chemical processes. High temperature heat is widely used in refineries, petrochemical and chemical plants. One of the largest applications is in production of ammonia which consumes around 3 to 5 percent of the world’s natural gas. Ammonia is mainly used in the production of fertilizers. In Poland the 13 major chemical plants are using 6500 MW of heat in the temperature range of 400 to 550 °C. (3)

The Institute of Chemical Processing of Coal (Instytut Chemicznej Przeróbki Węgla, ICPW) has been studying coal gasification processes for 40 years and have the expertise to investigate the use of heat from nuclear energy in the production of synthetic fuel.(4,5) It could be the case that a  process can be designed for synthetic gasoline that emits less greenhouse gases than gasoline from crude oil.

Nuclear energy can thus be used in more than one way to reduce greenhouse gases and even enable Poland to find new application of coal. This will improve the long term energy security.