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Texas firm considering Carbon County for synfuel plant

Sun Advocate associate editor

Synthetic Fuels Corporation has a coal-to-diesel fuel conversion plant in Wyoming's Powder River Basin and is looking for a place to build another one.

"What we're doing in Wyoming, we hope to duplicate in Carbon County," James Nairne told county commissioners in a presentation Wednesday afternoon. Nairne, the chief executive officer of the Dallas-based firm, explained that Carbon is attractive because it is close to its feed stock - coal - and also close to potential customers for its diesel fuel output.

The logic of locating here follows Nairne's reasoning for why his company should be changing coal into liquid fuel in the first place. Namely, that there is the equivalent of 1.2 trillion barrels of oil locked in American coal reserves.

Second, barrels of synthetic fuel produced here are barrels of oil not imported, important to reducing the nation's trade deficit. Fifty-five percent of that deficit is attributed to imported oil.

Third, sulfur, mercury and other pollutants are all removed in the conversion process, so the synthetic fuel is cleaner than either coal or petroleum.

Nairne told the commission that this wouldn't be a gigantic project, providing about 100 plant and office jobs while converting about 800 tons of coal per day if it operates at the same scale as the plant near Gillette, Wyo.

"So what can we do to help?" came the question from the commission. Nothing at this point, Nairne replied. He'll be working mainly with economic development director DeLynn Fielding for a few months evaluating the feasibility of locating here, then maybe two years on financing and permitting. So contruction is three years away.

After the meeting, a visitor asked him if the water supply in Carbon County would be adequate for the chemical processes. Nairne replied that water would be part of the evaluation process for site selection.

The process is not new, but it has been refined over the decades. It's called the Fischer-Tropsch Conversion, named after the chemists who discovered it back in the 1920s. Germany and Japan used it during World War II. Essentially, it breaks down coal into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, then recombines them under heat and pressure into molecular chains of carbon and hydrogen that make liquid fuel.

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