Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Long Con on Synthetic Fuels

by JAMES RIDGEWAY

Global warming is well on its way to being a godsend for the coal industry. Lobbyists are busily trying to turn dirty coal into a pleasing green alternative promoted by such Democratic luminaries as Presidential hopeful Barack Obama and former House Speaker turned lobbyist Dick Gephardt. In the background, always ready to help, is veteran infighter former Senate Majority leader West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd.

Members of Congress are falling all over themselves writing legislation that would pump millions of taxpayer dollars into schemes that promise to turn coal into synthetic gas, develop oil shale, and the most popular at the moment, plans to transform coal into a liquid oil.

If any of this were to happen, huge hunks of the fragile western plains would be transformed into modern mining camps, wrecking fragile ecosystems, exhausting and polluting water supplies. Manufacture of synthetic fuels would subject workers, and the general nearby populations to cancer causing chemicals.

There’s nothing new about synthetic fuels made from coal. In the 19th century street lamps in cities were lit with gas made from coal.In 1909, a key date in the development of this business, Friedrich Bergius,a German scientist,invented a way to produce synthetic gasoline from coal and hydrogen under high pressure by means of a process called hydrogenation. During World War I, Bergius tried without success to adapt his process to large scale production. Carl Bosch, the chairman of the I.G. Farben chemical combine, then in its infancy, thought the Bergius process held great possibilities for the Germany-a country with little or no oil of its own.

Short on fuel, Germany had been strangled during World War I by the British fleet By 1924 Germany was secretely rearming in violation of the Versailles treaty, and the new mechanized army needed a sure source of gasoline.

But turning coal into gasoline would be expensive and Bosch sought to involve Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon’s predecessor), He thought Standard would help foot the bill. Standard’s top officers were invited to Germany to see for themselves what Boschs’s men were doing. They were duly alarmed and came home worried Bosch’s synthetic fuel might overwhelm Standard’s oil wells and cripple the most powerful oil company in the world with.

Bosch, of course, was delighted at the Americans’s fright. Throwing caution to the winds, he plunged ahead, pumping million of dollars into mass production, sure the Americans would have no choice but to join him. His goal was 100,000 tons of coal gasoline a year.

Soon, Standard and IG Farben came to terms. The two companies cut a deal, setting up a cartel through which IG Farben agreed to stay out of the oil business and Standard agreed to keep clear of the chemical business.

Standard, however, soon lost interest–in part because of the depression, and in part because of big new finds in Texas that promised a flood of oil..

Nothing much happened until World War II when Hitler, another keen proponent of liquid coal, got behind synthetic fuel and by 1943 synthetics accounted for half of all German fuel,with the air force being one of the biggest users. The Luftwaffe controlled the skies over Europe during the early stages of the war. One of the liquefaction plants was located in Silesia where there were ample supplies of coal, water and slave labor. It was called I.G. Auschwitz. Finally the US Air Force destroyed the IG synthetic plants.At Nuremburg the IG Farben executives either got off or received light sentences.

Following the energy crisis of the 1970s, American oil companies renewed their interests in coal, buying up existing coal companies and getting control of reserves.Their emphasis was more on gasification than liquefaction since the supposed need at the time was to find a substitute for dwindling supplies of natural gas. In fact there was plenty of natural gas,and after first Carter, then Reagan, deregulated prices, the oil companies could make enough profit from selling real gas and didn’t need the synthetics. Once again synthetics slipped into the background. Oil companies cut back or ditched their coal holdings.

Now the cycle begins all over again. The energy industry sees sufficiently high prices to once again develop synthetics. But, as always, this will only happen if the politicians and taxpayers are dumb enough to pay for it.

JAMES RIDGEWAY is the author of 5 Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All For Sale: The Control of Global Resources and A Guide to Environmental Bad Guys, co-written with Jeffrey St. Clair. Ridgeway can be reached through his website.

 

 

James Ridgeway is an investigative reporter in Washington, DC. He co-edits Solitary Watch.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail