|By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Since the first discovery of coal use in the state around 1750, Kentucky has been identified as a leader in coal production from both its eastern and western sectors.
Once coal was used for a variety of purposes including fuel for gas lights, domestic heating, railroad fuel, stationary steam engines and smelting iron ore for the iron and steel industry, something it is still used for to an extent.
But the vast majority of mined coal today goes for electrical power plants.
However with modern technological advances, coal has the capability of being refined into a multitude of clean burning fuels ranging from petroleum for our automobiles to natural gas for our homes.
The technology needed for this has already been developed and in some form has actually been around for decades.
The Fischer-Tropsch process, for instance, was developed in Germany in the 1920s. This processing method was invented in the petroleum-poor but coal-rich country to produce liquid fuels and was used by both Germany and Japan in World War II as an alternative fuel.
Kentucky reached its peak coal production in 1990 with just over 173 million tons but since then the numbers have dropped to 114.2 million tons by 2004, placing the state third in total production across the nation.
This production loss has not gone unnoticed and thanks to work by the state through legislation and the Office of Energy Policy (OEP), efforts are being made to increase those numbers in order to attract production facilities that would turn Kentucky coal into new, clean burning fuels to offset foreign dependency on oil and natural gas.
Governor Ernie Fletcher has initiated an energy strategy to harness available natural resources such as coal in an environmentally safe manner to produce the fuels to fulfill the needs of the state and nation while producing economic advantages, as well.
“Our challenge today is to continue to grow our economy, utilize our resources in a sustainable manner and protect and maintain our commitment to environmental quality,” said Fletcher. “I am committed to work with the legislature to develop and implement a comprehensive energy policy for the benefits of all Kentuckians.”
Legislators have heeded the call with passage of a bill in 2006 to further the process of producing alternative transportation fuels through the conversion of coal or other biomass resources.
House Bill 299 spelled out the energy dependency factor by stating, “The United States currently imports almost 60 percent of its petroleum needs and nearly half of these imports come from highly unstable regions and countries. It is projected that this percentage will grow to over 70 percent by 2025 unless the United States changes its policy on producing liquid fuels.”
The legislation pointed out ways to counter this dependency by requiring the OEP to “develop and implement a strategy for production of transportation fuels and synthetic natural gas from fossil energy resources and biomass resources.”
The OEP is already implementing parts of the strategy by commissioning research to identify potential sites for the large coal-to-liquids and coal-to-gas plants, to assess and recommend state tax and financial incentives for attracting such plants to Kentucky, to evaluate the available technologies, and to develop effective public information about the technologies.
OEP Executive Director Talina Mathews pointed out that building these plants won’t be cheap but it will be worth it.
“The high world price of oil and continuing spikes in the price of natural gas ensures that the building of these expensive processing facilities in the state to produce these cleaner fuels will ultimately pay for itself not only in economical terms but environmentally as well,” she said. ”Governor Fletcher’s comprehensive energy strategy includes several provisions for transforming Kentucky’s energy resources, coal and agricultural materials, into high-value fuels.”
In the not-so-distant past, turning that coal and those agricultural resources into high-value fuels may have seemed like science fiction but thanks to new and some not-so-new technologies and a determination by state officials to make it happen, Kentucky’s coal will fuel more than just electricity.
To learn more about the state’s energy strategy, go to energy.ky.gov/energyplan/
This farm news was published in the Sept. 6, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.