Synthetic fuel production by indirect coal liquefaction

Eric D. Larson, Ren Tingjin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations


This paper reports detailed process designs and cost assessments for production of clean liquid fuels (methanol and dimethyl ether) by indirect coal liquefaction (ICL). Gasification of coal produces a synthesis gas that can be converted to liquid fuel by synthesis over appropriate catalysts. Recycling of unconverted synthesis gas back to the synthesis reactor enables a larger fraction of the coal energy to be converted to liquid fuel. Passing synthesis gas once over the synthesis catalyst, with unconverted synthesis gas used to generate electricity in a gas turbine combined cycle, leads to less liquid fuel production, but provides for a significant second revenue stream from sale of electricity. Recently-developed liquid-phase synthesis reactors are especially attractive for "once-through" processing. Both "recycle" and "once-through" plant configurations are evaluated in this paper. Because synthesis catalysts are poisoned by sulfur, essentially all sulfur must be removed upstream. Upstream removal of CO2 from the synthesis gas is also desirable to maximize synthesis productivity, and it provides an opportunity for partial decarbonization of the process, whereby the removed CO2 can be captured for underground storage. The analysis here suggests that co-capture and co-storage of CO2 and H2S (if this is proven technically feasible) could have important favorable impacts in some cases on liquid fuel production costs. Furthermore, the life-cycle CO2 emissions from production and use of fuels made by ICL would be lower than with production and use of petroleum-derived transportation fuels. If CO2 is not captured at ICL facilities, lifecycle CO2 emissions to the atmosphere would be considerably higher than lifecycle emissions with petroleum-derived fuels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-102
Number of pages24
JournalEnergy for Sustainable Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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