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Did you miss last week’s article, “The Frugal RVer: Want cheap diesel fuel? Make your own!”? If you missed it, read it first before continuing on.
Most RV travelers do not have to refer to the data (see Fig. 1 below) to know that fuel prices are roughly twice as high as last year. Some states like California are seeing a 137 percent increase. The cause of this is well-known too: maladroit, partisan political decisions to shut down crude oil transportation and disrupt domestic petroleum output, resulting in a reversion to predominantly foreign oil exports—all promulgated within the Washington, D.C., beltway.
Each stop at a roadside fuel station gets me thinking about a project that I was involved with some years ago: the conversion of Wyoming coal mining waste to fuel. That project sought to generate jet fuel for aviation, but the idea works for other low-grade refined fuels, including diesel.
Make your own diesel fuel
Let’s make synfuel. Diesel fuel is a low-grade fuel in terms of the refining process. It is well below automotive gasoline in the refinery cracking process. In last week’s article, I showed you how you can make your own diesel fuel—and it’s not a chemistry experiment; I’ve done it myself.
However, on the larger scale, addressing the entire RV industry, inexpensive diesel fuel is technically within reach, at less than half the cost of current U.S. domestic prices. Yes, you read that right—less than half.
Could this old plan still work?
An interview with former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer in Motor Trend magazine illuminated best how a western state politician (and a Democrat at that) could upend the vicious international petrochemical industry cycle of foreign oil, high domestic refinery costs, and taxation. Though out of office since 2015, Schweitzer had a plan to produce $1.20 diesel fuel, and that plan could work just as well today. Schweitzer’s Montana sits atop a vast coal reserve, as does the state of Wyoming. There are still enormous coal reserves in the Appalachian states as well. There is gasification technology that has been around since the German’s invented it during WWII. It can take biomass like coal, coal slag, wood, plant matter, etc., and convert it into very clean diesel fuel.
When Schweitzer was still governor of Montana, he met with a German energy company, Lurgi, engaged in coal gasification since the 1940s and actively involved in clean diesel fuel production in South Africa. “They said, ‘Here’s the deal. We can make diesel fuel…for less than $1.20 a gallon with your coal in Montana,’” Schweitzer said. He went on. “It’s cleaner. This is ‘ultra-clean’ diesel fuel. No aromatics. No sulfur. Zero sulfur.”
The Motor Trend interview with Governor Schweitzer took place in late 2006. Since then, the American industry has undertaken few new commercial coal gasification or other synfuel initiatives.
It’s time for Americans to act
Why not? This technology is established and ready to be used for the greater good. According to a 2009 Purdue University white paper, coal gasification is standard in Europe, Russia, and Africa. It produces clean, merchantable diesel fuel at a fraction of the cost of American retail petroleum products.
It is time for Americans to adopt and produce this fuel. The RV industry, and the greater RV community, should get behind this fuel production method and pursue it with investment and with political pressure on elected officials at the state and national levels.