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ENVIRONMENT & TRAVEL December 2005
Oil Addicted Consumers Need to Wake Up.
by Sabrina HAMMOUDI

A brief outlook at a potential alternative to ordinary fuel.

Even though oil prices have soared in the last few years, consumers are still amazingly indifferent to the current energy crisis: 13 million barrels of oil are imported every day in the US. The threat of outrageous gaz and heating bills have recently scared some into driving less or buying wood stoves, but most are very reluctant to change their habits. Nearly all American cars and trucks still run on fuel derived from oil ; in the last few years gasoline thirsty Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) have become more and more popular, particularly in the U.S., to the dismay of environmentalists.
As most consumers know, but try hard to forget, oil is a non-renewable resource: it is not everlasting and it will eventually run out. Financial woes apart, we need to find ways to replace it and wean down our oil addiction. Alternatives do exist, but bio and synthetic fuels have rather few champions in the US.

However, some people do believe in replacing oil with fuel derived from coal. In this perspective, Montana could become the Saudi Arabia of coal, with reserves of around 120 billion tons. This represents a third of all American coal reserves and a tenth of the world's. Governor Brian Schweitzer, who is a Democrat, strongly believes that transforming black coal into transparent synthetic fuel is the solution to energy independence. Some experts say that there is enough coal in the US to cater for the country's energy needs for the next 800 years.
Cars, planes, trucks and domestic heating systems could be operated on coal derived gasoline, diesel or kerosen. The new coal-to-fuel technology also means that this long established chemical process can now be done in a much cleaner way which prevents it from contributing to global warming.
Most environmentalists seem to be interested in the idea, and even though some worry that grassland would be at risk, it could be an option well worth trying.

But making fuel out of coal is still a matter of well wishing speculation. Several energy companies have showed interest in it, but the issue is still considered to be fraught with financial risk. There are no specific plans to build coal-to-fuel plants in Montana so far. Hundreds of them would be needed throughout the country. Even though it is clearly time for a radical change, it might be slow to come about.

Sources:
"Oiloholics," The Economist 26 August 2005.
"Seeking Clean Fuel For a Nation, and a Rebirth for Small-Town Montana," The New York Times 21 November 2005.


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