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Q: Coal/Oil/Energy ( Answered,   3 Comments )
Subject: Coal/Oil/Energy
Category: Science > Earth Sciences
Asked by: rkrm-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 03 Apr 2004 20:34 PST
Expires: 03 May 2004 21:34 PDT
Question ID: 324794
Can coal be converted to oil? Or is "peak oil" really the end of the world?

Request for Question Clarification by scriptor-ga on 04 Apr 2004 05:04 PDT
Dear rkrm,

Would information on coal can be converted to oil and how it has
already been done in practice be a valid answer to your question?


Clarification of Question by rkrm-ga on 04 Apr 2004 06:53 PDT
What I am trying to find out is this: I have recently become aware of
the concept of "peak oil" and the possibly devasting effects that a
worst case scenario can produce i.e. enrgy shortages, disruption of
the food supply, disruption of available medical services and
pharmacuticals, etc. The world runs on oil and the 500,00 products
produced by/from it. On the other side of the argument is the camp
that says we have massive coal deposits that can be converted to oil.
Is this a feasable solution? Or does the conversion result in a net
energy loss? Can "coal oil" produce gasoline? Is "peak oil" really the
end of the world? Thanks.

Request for Question Clarification by scriptor-ga on 04 Apr 2004 08:03 PDT
Actually, it is relatively easy to make gasoline from "caol oil". In
fact, the German army used that kind of gasoline for trucks, cars, and
even armored vehicels during World War II, because "normal" oil was
too rare.

Request for Question Clarification by techtor-ga on 04 Apr 2004 12:14 PDT
Hello Rkrm,
Just to guess your motive here, I assume what you're asking is whether
the loss of oil will cause civilizational collapse, and whether coal
coversion to oil is a good way to prevent such a thing from happening,
or to solve it if it happens. Just tell us if this assumption is
correct. Also, what sort of references would you expect to support an
answer to this question, if you expect any at all?

Clarification of Question by rkrm-ga on 04 Apr 2004 13:17 PDT

Yes that is exactly what I am looking for. Any legitimate reliable
source is fine for your answer whether it is happy or gloomy. Thanks.


Request for Question Clarification by techtor-ga on 08 Apr 2004 08:17 PDT
Hello Rkrm,
I've taken quite a while on this since I couldn't be sure I have what
you need. I have found sites discussing the topic of whether "peak
oil" will be a disaster or not, and most of what is said here could be
opinion. On the other part of the question, I could only find articles
about conversion of coal into oil, but nothing about it being a
solution for "peak oil" if that does occur. I'm just giving you an
idea on the difficulty of finding such worthy information for this
topic. I'll keep researching though.

Clarification of Question by rkrm-ga on 08 Apr 2004 14:23 PDT
If not oil specifically then can coal be converted to liquid energy?
Like gas or diesel? I speak oil really here? Will it really be the end
or do the substanial coal reserves rpresent future energy security? I
have made the answer worth $25.00 since the information is difficult
to find.
Subject: Re: Coal/Oil/Energy
Answered By: techtor-ga on 24 Apr 2004 09:50 PDT
Greetings Rkrm,
I've decided to post this answer since I feel I have enough
information to work from. I will first explain my analysis and then
list my source sites after. I will try to be concise yet informative
on the topic. I base most of my explanation on the first website I
list, the Oilcrash site.

According to most of my find on the Web, "peak oil" will certainly
cause problems - big ones. It undoubted that today's modern world has
a heavy, almost irrevocable dependence on oil. Oil problems like those
that occurred in the 1973 Embargo and other such events are said to be
small foretastes of what will really happen should oil truly cease to
be available. So I believe that when oil does run out, civilization
might certainly start to decline and degrade in many parts of the
world. Whether it will lead to civilizational collapse, I believe it
to be quite likely than not.

It may not be the end of the human race, though it might be the end of
civilization, as most of the sites about "Peak Oil" say. Most
certainly it is one scenario where technological advancement will
cease and regress. Perhaps mankind will go on living, though maybe
with a different kind of technology, lesser technology, but never with
the oil-based technology we use today. Yes, you could consider it the
end of civilization as we know it today. I myself have asked other
people about it and they're frightened to think of a world without
crude oil.

As for the solution of coal conversion in to oil, this kind of
conversion has been done and is doable. But the technology is only
beginning in development, or even in acceptance, and it may even be
more costly and difficult to process than just drilling for oil in the
ground. Even if it may get perfected in the end, it may just be too
late. In addition, most of the sites below with expert opinions say
that alternative fuels are no solution to solve the oil crisis. So
based on this, I doubt that coal conversion to oil is any solution to
the problem of Peak Oil.

I for one believe the only solution is to drastically cut down
dependence on oil as early as possible and change the way society
works before the Peak Oil effect happens. In other words, we can only
prepare for it. And drastic change in the structure of society today
will be needed to deal with it. If technological advancement is to
continue, there will have to be a shift to non-oil derived technology.

The problem with this is that the way the world is run is heavily
influenced by corporate interests. Among the biggest corporate
interests are the big oil companies - Shell, Petron, Exxon, Mobil.
Their funds also fuel most of the world's economy. Also, remember oil
doesn't just mean fuel... even lubricants and other machine oil
applications are based on petroleum. Plastic I believe is a material
that is in a big part derived from petroleum. When oil becomes scarce,
many products we use and take for granted in daily life will become
scarce, and we may return to the wood- and metal-dependent societies
of older times.

Sounds dreary, but I agree that civilization will be in trouble
because of Peak Oil. Alternative fuels are not worthy solutions to
solve Peak Oil, because they are not enough to cover what crude oil
does. I guess we'll just have to prepare and pray nothing truly
disastrous does happen.

Here are the websites with articles talking about Peak Oil and its
effects. I believe most of them hint to a condition of collapse when
oil is close to depletion:

Oilcrash: Home Page
- Here's a website which seems to have lots of information on the
subject. It has links to other sites, articles by experts and list of
books on the subject. This seems to be the best site on the topic so

ASPO the Association for the Study of Peak Oil
- The interviews with Mr. Colin Campbell give a lot of information here.

Life After The Oil Crash
- This site has a quite a pessimistic outlook. It seems also meant to
promote a book.

An MBendi Profile: World: Oil And Gas Industry - Peak Oil: an Outlook
on Crude Oil Depletion - C.J.Campbell - Revised February 2002

Peak Oil - A turning Point for Mankind

Peak Oil article from A Witness website

Guerrila News Network: The solution to Peak Oil - message board thread

Oil: Are We Running Out? 
by David Deming 
January 12-15, 2000
San Diego, California 

The Fall of Petroleum Civilization - peak oil
- Here's a site predicting the fall of petroleum-based civilization.

CNN Confirms Peak Oil: (news article) 
World oil and gas 'running out' By CNN's Graham Jones, October 2, 2003

MSNBC - Crude Awakening
- "...So if you want to liquefy coal as a substitute for oil in
transportation - which is its most important application - you would
have to mine coal at a rate that?s many, many times at the rate of
what we?re doing now. But the conversion process is very inefficient."

Oil depletion: Overview, links and resources

EnviroHealth - Peak Oil Really Bad?
- Another message board thread about the Peak Oil topic. Other angles
on the subject can be looked at in the other messages.

Peak Oil Watch - Following coverage of oil production peak risks - CAMWEST
- Here's an Australian organization keeping its own eye on the oil situation. 

Is Peak Oil a Myth?
- Another site debating the reality of Peak Oil. 

Coal-oil conversion technology:

United Press International: China plant to convert coal to motor fuel

19/11/2002 -- Researchers consider cheaper ways to convert coal to gasoline - Coal-to-fuel plant wins $100 million


Google search terms used:
"peak oil"
"peak oil" effects
"peak oil" solution
coal convert oil
world oil depletion
"peak oil" coal oil convert
"peak oil" coal oil conversion
coal convert fuel oil
coal conversion oil solution peak
coal conversion oil solution "peak oil"

I hope this has been a most helpful answer. If you need anything else,
or have a problem with the answer, do please post a Request for
Clarification before rating and I shall respond as soon as I can.
Thank you.
Subject: Re: Coal/Oil/Energy
From: hfshaw-ga on 06 May 2004 12:27 PDT
Information on the conversion of coal to liquid fuels is *not* hard to
find.  Do a Google search on "coal liquefaction", "synfuel" (or, if
you are interested in the conversion of coal to gaseous fuels, "coal
gasification") and you'll get pages and pages of hits.  A good
introductory discussion of the process can be found at

Coal liquefaction is a proven technology (it was used in the early
part of the last century, by the Germans in WWII, and is still used in
S. Africa) that can produce a liquid fuel at a cost of >$35/barrel (in
current dollars).  At this price, the process has not really been
competitive with simply extracting crude oil from the ground.  The
cost for crude oil throughout the 20th century varied between about
$15/barrel and $20/barrel (in 2000 dollars), except for the period of
the OPEC "oil embargo" and the "energy crisis" in the late 70's- early
80's. (see  Note that over the last
few years, oil prices have been on the increase, and they have spiked
dramatically in the last few weeks (approaching $40/barrel today, May
6, 2004).  Over the short term (months to years), it is likely that
these prices will be sustained.  However, over the longer term
(decades), the cost for oil *will* increase*.   As production of
conventional crude oil declines, and the demand for transportable
fuels (i.e., liquids and gases) increases as the rest of the world
tries to catch up with the developed world, it is inevitable that the
cost for such fuels will increase.

The problem is not that we will run out of liquid fuels, the problem
is how much they will cost in the future!  Indeed, for every barrel of
conventional oil that is produced, about 2 barrels are left behind in
the Earth, even after special "secondary recovery" techniques are used
to enhance the extraction).  There are no economically competitive
methods known today to increase the recovery ratio.  (Do a search on
"enhanced oil recovery" or "EOR".)

It seems inevitable (to me at least) that this cost increase will
result in a shift in our useage of fuels and a resulting change in
global economies.  The unresolved question is how disruptive that
change will be!
Subject: Re: Coal/Oil/Energy
From: n2knowledge-ga on 11 Oct 2004 10:47 PDT
Peak oil will not signify the beginning of the end of the world. It
will simply mark the beginning of a shift from one major source of
energy to another. There have been several shifts in the past from say
wood to coal, coal to oil and natural gas.

Signs of shifts are all around. Power plants are starting to shift
from natural gas to gasified coal generation. Direct coal gasification
eliminates many of the pollution and maintenance problems with old
coal burning technologies. Right now China has the largest growth rate
for oil consumption. The semi-free market in China is responding by
developing systems to supply the growing demand that uses their local
energy source coal. Recently construction was started in China of a
coal to fuel conversion facility. The need is recognized and actions
are being taken to fill the need.

The energy source that is most widely used is purely a matter of
economics. Technology exists to convert between the various energy
sources. Cost determines the primary energy source used at any one
time. As oil based hydrocarbon fuels become more expensive due to
depletion coal based technologies will likely become the primary
technology in use. Coal will most likely first be converted into
natural gas and liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Mostly due to the cost of
replacing the current distribution infrastructure.

Coal to Hydrogen will be the next most likely system. Physics
determines that fuel cells can provided a more energy efficient
conversion system (80%) than heat engines can ever possibly hope to
achieve (30%). When the costs of a Hydrogen based system is lower than
the cost of use and converting the hydrocarbon fuel infrastructure the
economy will shift to the new system.

Next most likely shift will take place when the world makes a shift to
space based solar power. Solar power will be used to generate hydrogen
through the electrolysis process. This will happen sometime after 2050
maybe as late as 2100. It will start about 30 years after the first
space elevator system becomes operational around 2020 cutting the cost
of reaching orbit to a few dollars per pound. Solar electrical
conversion will be very high. About 80% efficient and the supply will
be practically limitless.
Subject: Re: Coal/Oil/Energy
From: ctannlund-ga on 09 Mar 2005 20:43 PST
I had a long e-mail correspondence with Matt savinar, author of the
"Life After the Oil Crash" website referenced above.  Yes, Matt is
very pessimistic about the effects of the "coming oil crash." I am a
hopeful futurist, who believes Humanity has all the brilliance and
ingenuity we need to transition smoothly from one fule source to the
next, and the nobility of spirit to choose to do so before any "die
off" event, as predicted by many peak oil enthusiasts, could ever
manifest in reality.  I have compiled our e-mails into an article
entitled "Oil, Instinct, Anxiety and Ascension: An E-Mail Exchange
with 'Life After the Oil Crash' Author Matt Savinar," which you can
read, if you are interested, at (scroll down about halfway
for the article).  I hope it provides some perspective!

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