SRI International is developing a process that combines coal and natural gas to produce liquid transportation fuels that are substantially cleaner and cheaper to make than existing synthetic fuels.
SRI claims its process addresses three liabilities that have slowed the commercialization of the technology. By blending some natural gas into the conventional coal-to-liquids (CTL) process, the private research lab, based in Menlo Park, California, claims to have eliminated CTL's carbon footprint, slashed water consumption by over 70 percent, and more than halved its capital cost.
Chan Park, a gasification and synthetic fuels expert at the University of California, Riverside's Center for Environmental Research & Technology, cautions that SRI's work is at an early stage. But Park says the process "could be really exciting" as a domestic alternative to petroleum fuel in coal and gas-rich countries such as the U.S.—if it can be demonstrated at pilot scale.