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Let’s make Synfuel. It’s time for Americans to adopt and produce this fuel

**Please keep your comments polite and non-offensive, with no name-calling. Any comments which are rude or offensive will be deleted. If readers are just slamming each other and their opinions (which happens too frequently here), the comments will be closed.**

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.

Fig. 1 Diesel Fuel Prices as of the end of December 2021. Source: Energy Information Administration.

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.

##RVT1036

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gary
4 months ago

The article is not intended for meaningful discussion. The world has known about coal gasification for decades. I worked on it for one of the largest oil companies in the 70’s. It cannot compete with wind/solar/nuclear if clean energy is the goal. It is not even as clean as ‘standard fossil fuels’ if toxic waste/residue from the process is included – as it should be. But there are lots of people who believe short term economics are worth the cost of – what was it? – oh, our planet, and our existence on our planet. I am not surprised by the viewpoint of this article – just that it was ‘featured’ by RV Travel. That makes me very sad.

chris
4 months ago
Reply to  gary

Couldn’t agree more.

McTroy
4 months ago

RV Tech you distribute an article like this and then ASK your readers for monetary support? You will be lucky if you don’t lose subscriptions over this.
Political, half thought through opinions do not belong in this publication.
Gas prices are up, in part, because we are traveling again. I am thankful to not have to stay home!

McTroy
4 months ago

Thank you! This article was full of half truths and half baked ideas. Facts and numbers like yours are helpful and appreciated.

CLeeNick
4 months ago

I’m all for independent manufacture of synfuel…but will it work in today’s EPA electronics-overladen, exhaust-fluid chugging, federally-controlled diesel engines that REQUIRE a specifically manufactured petroleum fuel just to run properly, and shut themselves down if anything else is introduced? The original diesel engine was simple and designed to run on used vegetable oil, and would run on many fuels ranging from that to kerosene..but no longer. Now they require a specific set or additives and chemical parameters required by government, and simply won’t run if those aren’t met. I was happy to give E85 (gasohol) a try in the flex-fuel GMC truck we bought last year, only to have the stuff turn my check engine light on..and provide terrible economy…because the truck uses current weather parameters which require specific, seasonally blended gasohol fuels that our one local E85 station couldn’t always find. Nothing wrong with the truck. Going back to “normal” gas fixed the issue.

George Wolfe
4 months ago

I wish there was a way to go from one topic in newsletter to another without having to go back and pick link to read today’s newsletter and then having to scroll down past last read topic. Reading on IPhone

Robin Pack
4 months ago

Here’s an idea, let’s talk about rv’s…cool features, new designs, options included, color schemes, DIY conversions and things taken from the rv world used in said conversions, remodeling or a simple face lift of our rv’s inside and out. Talk a bit more of affordable to the average joe travel trailers instead of the 5th wheel glampers and such, wait that maybe a bias there.

I have dealt with and still do with politics in the military, aviation and the corporate world…this is one place I don’t want to see politics in, RVT…Clear? Roger? Over? Got it? Willco? Understand? Understood? Do I need to use crayons and draw a picture to clarify?

Andy
4 months ago

1). I am starting a tin foil hat company that I will link to this site. 2). The reason the United States imports oil, and exports oil, is because US oil is to sulfuric to be refined in EPA regulated American refineries. We export our dirty oil to the world because they don’t care, and import cleaner oil from the Mideast that can comply with our clean air standards.

KellyR
4 months ago

Wow! I think I am going to blame George Washington.

John Koenig
4 months ago

Perhaps the author has been breathing in “questionable” fumes from the projects he’s been working on for a long time. For many DECADES, the aviation industry has been trying to eliminate lead in the standard 100LL (100 octane Low Lead) fuel used in piston powered aircraft. A number of possible solutions thought to be “the answer” were in fact unsuitable for various reasons (yes, I realize the aviation fuel is gasoline so, there will be differences with diesel fuel). Is the author choosing to ignore whatever problems / issues that exist in his solution? With hundreds of thousands (or is it millions?) of diesel engines currently in use, ANY solution needs to have a fair degree of backward compatibility (as well as ROCK SOLID reliability BEFORE it can expect to achieve widespread use. I have to wonder why a small scale “proof of concept” operation in WY and MT is not underway, at least for “local” diesel powered vehicles. Show that that the author’s IS viable, then expand the scope.

TIM MCRAE
4 months ago
Reply to  John Koenig

,👍👍👍

McTroy
4 months ago
Reply to  John Koenig

Yea!

MrDisaster
4 months ago

DOE has a spreadsheet of some 62 Syngas projects. It appears to be about 5 years out of date, but provides some interesting information. Many projects have been canceled because of lack of funding and a few because of regulatory review at the state and local level. It appears that most were focused on either chemical or natural gas production. At a glance I didn’t see any that were focused on fuel production. I guess it’s an idea that isn’t yet profitable.

Name Withheld
4 months ago

While I agree with the sentiment, and I am NOT looking at this from a political position, just the economics alone trouble me. First off, the science on carbon emissions and climate impact (and the resulting feedback loops we have triggered) is clear – we can’t keep spewing CO2, Methane, etc… into the atmosphere. What we may save in a gallons of synth-gas today, will likely cost us twenty times as much in a decade in fire fighting, drought relief, flood water mitigation or food and housing assistance. Second, our economy has survived transitions many times before. We went from using whale oil for lamps to kerosene, then the DC/Edison system and finally the AC/Westinghouse system for electrical distribution won out – and we still use it today. We went from the age of sails to the age of steam and now most ships are powered by diesel or gas turbine engines (though sails are making a very high-tech comeback). People build better mousetraps all the time, we can do better than this

TIM MCRAE
4 months ago
Reply to  Name Withheld

The problem is ‘they’ want to tear it down first and then build renewables.

You are right – build it and they will come

Brian Burry
4 months ago

Simple answer is return to Energy Independence. The United States has available 550 years of known oil to produce, with numerous areas of still untapped oil fields to explore. The primary production of heat and electricity is petroleum, with wind and solar less than 3%. Using food/agriculture for fuel is not the best use of that source. Nuclear will reduce use of petroleum for electricity, as shown by France and other countries that has employed that technology to their Citizens benefit.

TIM MCRAE
4 months ago
Reply to  Brian Burry

👍👍👍

Carole
4 months ago

Maybe the comments should be omitted and we can all just fume in the privacy of our homes. Reading the article and the comments raised my blood pressure.

Bob
4 months ago

I’m disappointed that you decided to print this article. This person has a political agenda and is pushing for more fossil fuel production. We have to get away from fossil fuel and concentrate on renewable energy. More American jobs will be created by the build out of solar, wind and battery power and stop global warming. This has to be the number one thing we do or soon we will not have a livable earth to live on, much less RV.

Rick K
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob

Same garbage I heard when I was in high school many years ago. Guess what, we’re still here. You need to keep up with the times. It was global warming back then. Now it’s climate change.

chris
4 months ago
Reply to  Rick K

Same thing, only they had to change it because all the people who couldn’t read thought everything should be getting warmer.

TIM MCRAE
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob

Why don’t you show some facts? Renewables are not cheaper and are often mure harmful to the environment than fossil fuels!

Instead of destroying fossil fuels in the hope that renewables will be better why not build the new technologies and once they are up & sustainable we can choose the best solution?

Stop destroying what we have to make things better! Just make things better!

BTW synfuel doesn’t have to be fossil fuel. It can be biowaste or vegetable based. Both of these are renewable

Vincee
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob

Bob, you are showing your age. The term “Global Warming” has been obsolete for the last 15-20 years! Don’t you realize that the “environmentalists” have switched to the much broader term of “Climate Change”? They want you to think, and it seems you do, that every time you start your car to go buy milk and eggs you are putting another death spike into the life we know. But, they won’t tell you that the “climate has been changing” long before the industrial revolution and the use of fossil fuels. As a matter of fact, many in the scientific community will tell you climate change has happened since the birth of this planet. The only difference today is the useability of electronic media communications for all sides of the conversation to promote their beliefs.

chris
4 months ago
Reply to  Vincee

Climate change took over from Global warming because all the people who couldn’t read thought GW meant everything should be getting warmer.

Michael
4 months ago

In his opening statement, the author makes sweeping accusations without any data to back it up. High fuel prices are a worldwide phenomena. How does the DC beltway affect energy prices in Europe or other countries? He also ‘forgot’ to mention reduced worldwide production and soaring worldwide demand as a cause for high prices. When a writer starts an article by claiming that an unfounded opinion is ‘widely known’, he loses credibility (at least with me).

If you want to have an article about synthetic fuel, write it about synthetic fuel. Good editing would have deleted virtually the entire first paragraph, since the only relevance to the article is high fuel prices. It also encourages other unfounded and easily debunked ‘facts’.

This site would be better served by avoiding politics, both in comments and articles.

TIM MCRAE
4 months ago
Reply to  Michael

Agreed it is not relevant to this article but to answer your question, the US can and did effect worldwide fuel prices!

When the US quite literally became the worlds largest energy producer and/or became energy independent it drove a stake through OPEC. We became a competitor in world energy. Competition always creates more honest pricing.

Suddenly the US gave up that energy independence and prices rose worldwide. The cartel was back in charge. Oil is once again approaching $100 / barrel.

Do you remember a few years ago oil was less than $20? Less than $10. Because of futures contracts less than $0?

That’s how the US effects the world economy!

Vincee
4 months ago
Reply to  TIM MCRAE

The US gave up it’s energy independence under the current administration.

Scott R. Ellis
4 months ago

Whatever else I may think on the topic, RVT putting such a blatantly political article on the opening page is quite disappointing.

chris
4 months ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

What would we do without our weekly installment of angry political discourse?

HappyCamper7424
4 months ago

Having worked in the chemical industry for over 30 years, I can tell you with high confidence that if you want to go the synfuels route, GTL (natural gas to liquids) is much less expensive, has a much lower invested capital cost and generates much less CO2 than CTL (Coal to Liquids). Our country is also blessed with plentiful natural gas resources.

Stargazer
4 months ago

A long time ago during one of the gas shortages they were going to do this in PA. A company was given millions of dollars in taxpayers money plus private investments to build a plant like you’re talking about. Long story short. The plant has never built and the investment money disappeared. I remember reading that the cost of building a plant and infrastructure ( most fuel stations are commonly owned by oil companies or under contract and would not sell this fuel) Also the states would tax it the same as diesel. When I started driving truck in the early 70s gas was .35 to .40 a gallon and diesel was .15 to .20 cents a gallon. Diesel is the least expensive fuel to make but because of road use and other taxes in most states it’s going to cost more than regular gas. This does sound like a great idea and if we were at war like the Germans were it would be worth it, maybe.

Silas Longshot
4 months ago

Well, we know exactly why this may never happen or may take another 20 years…because the petroleum industry has paid off way too many politicians to keep things as they are. Now if you could get some billionaire to get you started with this idea, maybe you could get somewhere.

Donald N Wright
4 months ago

I do remember the “Everything into oil” projects with heat & pressure, as well as “The Gray System” built at B.Y. University. I do not understand why Canada did not build it’s own oil refinery over by the oil shale. The problems are not Republican or Democrat, it’s that technology costs money, and sometimes the best of ideas and concepts fail . “Bio gas” seems to work elsewhere…