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Electric cars have been getting a lot of buzz lately, but a more immediately viable transportation fuel of the future could be liquid derived from coal. Scientists have devised a new way to transform coal into gas for your car using far less energy than the current process. The advance makes scaling up the environmentally unfriendly fuel more economical than greener alternatives.
If oil prices rise again, adoption of the new coal-to-liquid technology, reported this week in Science, could undercut adoption of electric vehicles or next-generation biofuels. And that’s bad news for the fight against climate change.
The new process could cut the energy cost of producing the fuel by 20 percent just by rejiggering the intermediate chemical steps, said co-author Ben Glasser of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. But coal-derived fuel could produce as much as twice as much CO2 as traditional petroleum fuels and at best will emit at least as much of the greenhouse gas.