Arlington scientists find way to make cheap gas from coal



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Posted on February 19, 2010 at 5:15 PM

Updated Saturday, Feb 20 at 4:32 AM

ARLINGTON - How would you like to buy gasoline made from $30 domestic coal versus $75 imported oil?

Researchers at the Unviersity of Texas at Arlington say they've found a practical way to make synthetic crude from inexpensive coal that's common in Texas.

People have been turning coal into oil for 100 years or more, but researchers at UTA say they've invented a better way to do it.

It is so much better that they expect to sign a deal with an oil company within weeks.

"This is East Texas lignite coal. We go from that to this really nice liquid," said Professor Brian Dennis of a light synthetic crude, easily refined into gasoline.

Professor Dennis and a team of scientists have been working on the process for about a year-and-a-half.

"I had the idea for this while I was walking to my car," he said. "I ran back to the lab and I started drawing it out in my notebook."

They only showed News 8 an early model reactor which doesn't look like much. The current reactor design is secret, extremely efficient, and emits no pollution, the UTA scientists said.

"We're improving the cost every day. We started off sometime ago at an uneconomical $17,000 a barrel. Today, we're at a cost of $28.84 a barrel," said engineering dean Rick Billo.

That's $28 a barrel versus $75 we pay now for imported crude.

Texas lignite coal is dirt cheap - less than $18 a ton. A ton of coal will produce up to 1.5 barrels of oil.

UTA researchers expect micro-refineries to be built within a year, turning coal into cheap oil and producing new jobs.

It's still fossil fuel, but scientists say it could bridge the gap until greener technologies catch up.