I have been kicking around the idea of writing an essay on the coal-to-liquids (CTL) dream of Montana governor Brian Schweitzer. However, a story just appeared in the Billings Gazette that emphasizes many of the points I would cover in an essay:
The essay argues that we shouldn’t do it, mainly due to global warming and pollution concerns. I agree that we shouldn’t do it, but I think we will do it as we become more desperate for energy. However, the cost of a CTL plant is double the cost of a conventional refinery. This means that CTL is still not an economic option, even though the process is viable from a technical standpoint.
The article above claims $6 billion to build one 80,000 bbl/day plant. This is consistent with estimates I have seen, which are even higher than estimates for GTL plants. So, before we turn to CTL, I think we will have to further deplete our conventional oil resources, and then start building GTL plants. At some point prices will be high enough to justify building CTL plants. Of course we may be growing bananas in Greenland by then.
Oh, and if you want to see some opinions that will make you shudder, read some of the comments following the article above. Some of those comments reflect an incredible ignorance of the issues we face. One of the posters is confident that God won’t allow us to destroy ourselves. Someone else argued that if we cut back on CO2, plants will start to die. We have a real uphill battle trying to get people to face up to the challenges before us.