FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Long Con on Synthetic Fuels

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.

 

 

More articles by:

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

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail