Pennsylvania has begun a drive to build the first facility in the nation that would transform coal and biomass into jet fuel.
The Pennsylvania Financing Authority gave Houston-based startup $175,000 earlier this month to help fund a study for a $1 billion coal-biomass-to-liquid (CBTL) production plant that would produce 8,000 to 10,000 barrels of fuel a day.
The funding will come out of the state's clean energy coffers, despite outrage from critics. Observers say approval of the full facility is very likely.
State Rep. David. R. Kessler (D), the lawmaker behind the push, said it would be the first "clean domestic fuel" plant of its kind and would be a boon to clean fuels technology in the state.
"This study marks a tremendous step in seeding a renewable energy future for Pennsylvania," Kessler . "The clean fuels industry has the potential to revitalize our region, providing green jobs and solidifying our Commonwealth as a leader in the New Energy Economy."
Supporters, like Kessler, argue that coal-based fuels are greener than conventional crude and ethanol.
But environmental groups remain adamantly opposed, warning that any 'green' claims are misleading.
Joseph Minott, executive director of the , a statewide environmental group, said it is "absurd" to think of coal as clean energy.
"Modern technology might be able to reduce some of the emissions," Minott told SolveClimate. "But coal from cradle to grave produces a tremendous amount of pollution, and there's no way of getting around that."
Accelergy, which teamed up with military contractor and algae biotech firm to develop the plant, says its gasification process would produce 20 percent fewer emissions than conventional sources. This is in large part due to the algae component developed by Denver-based A2BE.
The technology would soak up carbon dioxide as the liquid fuel is being made. Further, the oxygen released by the algae farms would be pumped back into the facility to create a more efficient way of using coal, the company claims.
Mark Allen, CEO and co-founder of A2BE, called the process a "very good first step" to cut the carbon footprint of coal-based fuels.
Air Force Leading the Charge
The leftover algae would be used to make a high-energy fertilizer trademarked by A2BE to grow crops and sequester heat-trapping CO2 in the soil, Allen told SolveClimate.
The announcement comes as the U.S military scrambles to secure flows of transportation fuel from non-petroleum-based domestic sources.
The U.S. Air Force is leading the charge, with a goal of getting 50 percent of its fuel spun from home-grown synthetic sources that deploy carbon capture technologies.
In March, Accelergy began production of its CBTL technology at a pilot facility at the University of North Dakota. The U.S Air Force is evaluating the process as the industry standard, the company says. Accelergy CEO Tim Vail that his firm is "the first to provide 100 percent synthetic jet fuel for the [U.S. Air Force].
"The Air Force will likely be the recipient of the fuel at the pilot scale," Allen said of the Pennsylvania plant.
Kessler said the Pennsylvania plant would be built alongside a coal plant, produce electricity and fuel and would create 2,500 construction jobs and employ 700 to 1,000 people upon completion.
Pennsylvania is the nation's fourth biggest coal-producing state.
For Minott, efforts to develop a "new use of coal" is at odds with the push to slow global warming.