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The Wasatch Behind: Bituminous bombers

Guest Contributor

I see where the air force wants to start running its airplanes on coal," Uncle Spud said, very matter of fact. "That should help the mining industry."

"Running airplanes on coal? Are you out of your mind?" I snorted. "An airplane can't carry enough coal to fuel its engines and fly. And even if we could get coal to burn in a jet engine, where are you going to put the smokestacks on a B-2 bomber and still expect the thing to be stealthy?

"They're going to process the coal on the ground and put it in the airplanes as a liquid," he said. "It's called gasification. You know, making gas from coal."

"Oh," I said. "That makes more sense."

"It's right here in the Salt Lake Tribune," he said. "The air force is getting real nervous about our dependence on foreign oil and they want to start using domestic fuel as much as possible. Since we can't drill for oil in most this country, they've decided it's time to use gasified coal to run our military."

"That's a little radical, don't you think?"

"No," Spud said. "I think it's a great idea. Since the wilderness lovers won't let us drill for oil in places like ANWR or on the continental shelves, we don't have many options when it comes to being energy independent. Coal is about our only choice. We can make nuclear power plants, but there aren't any nuclear airplanes yet. And besides, we have three times as much coal as oil anyway. We might as well go for it."

"So how does the air force expect to do this?" I asked. "I don't know of any coal gasification plants operating in the country right now."

"To begin, they are offering 700 acres on the Malmstrom Air Base in Montana as a site for any company willing to build a coal gasification plant there. The air force will partner with the gasification company, but private industry will finance, build, run, and own the facility. The air force will own the land and provide security. They also promise to buy the fuel the plant produces. It's really a good deal for an up and coming company willing to start a whole new industry. The air force has initiated a bidding process and will accept bids until May of this year."

"Sounds good," I said. "But can we really make gas from coal?"

"Yes," he said. "The Germans were doing it during World War II and that was 65 years ago. Technology has come a long ways in 65 years."

"Why not stick with bio-fuels made from corn and soybeans?"

"Bio-fuel is not cost efficient to make, and we might need to eat the corn someday. Nobody eats coal. It's pure fossil energy."

"But won't gas made from coal be expensive?"

"Expensive is a relative term," the Spudster smiled. "How expensive do you think a gallon of gas will be if Saudi Arabia is ever taken over by radical Jihads who want us dead? It could happen, you know."

"But how much gas from coal could we produce in this country?"

"The air force hopes to have several gasification plants in operation in the next few years," Spud explained. "They want to have half of their fuel produced by coal gasification by 2016, an estimated 400 million gallons per year."

"Sounds like they are serious about this."

"It's about time someone got serious about it," Spud said. "Today we buy more than half of our fuel from other countries, most of them in the volatile middle-east, and those people can shut us off at any time. In today's world, it's national suicide to allow foreigners to control our energy supply like that. Our politicians ought to be tarred and feathered for allowing us to be in a mess like this."

"But what about the green people? Surely they will protest and rant and rave about all of that dirty coal being mined. New coal mines might mess up some cryptobiotic soil, and everybody knows that coal causes global warming."

"I guess it's time for people to decide what's most important to them," Spud said somberly. "Do we want an air force with enough fuel to protect us when things get bad, or do we want lots of unspoiled wilderness to flee to when the Jihads take over? You decide. We're fast running out of options."

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