With enough coal in the ground in Illinois to produce more energy than all the oil in Saudi Arabia, coal has attracted entrepreneurs and government officials seeking domestic substitutes for foreign oil, according to the New York Times
In addition, rising gasoline prices and proven technology available to turn coal into fuel for cars, homes and factories make it seem like a viable alternative.
However, producing fuels from coal generates far more carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming, than producing vehicle fuel from oil or using ordinary natural gas, reports the New York Times
Two U.S. companies, Rentech Inc. in East Dubuque and GreatPoint Energy in Des Plaines, Ill., are researching options for producing diesel fuel or natural gas from coal and are planning plant construction, garnering a great deal of attention from oil executives and researchers.
While Energy Secretary Samuel K. Bodman sees coal conversion as a potential contributor to the President’s goal of cutting oil imports, environmentalists report that unless factories capture the carbon dioxide created during the conversion process, the global warming impact would double.
"It's a potential disaster for the environment if we move in the direction of trying to create a big synfuel program based on coal to run our transportation fleet," said Daniel A. Lashof, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.