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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Long blasted as dirty fuel, coal could be returning to the pumps within the next 15 years.
Gerald Huffman, a professor at the University of Kentucky, said a project he and a consortium of researchers from four other academic institutions could bring down the costs to convert coal into a cleaner burning motor fuel, NEPA (Pa.) News reported.
The news comes as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded the research group -- the UK Consortium for Fossil Fuel Science -- a $5.7 million grant to develop more cost-effective methods to make the conversion.
"This research is relevant in many ways," said Lee T. Todd Jr., president at University of Kentucky. "Quite notably to national security, in view of the fact that most of the major world oil suppliers are located in the Middle East. Perhaps a fuel-independent nation will make armed conflict less likely."
Like ethanol in the Midwest, coal is a plentiful resource in several states, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Its popularity as a fuel has waned over the past several decades because of environmental concerns. While such fears have dissipated through new conversion techniques, costs remain considerably higher than crude oil, undermining coal as a viable mainstream motor fuel.
"South Africa has been making this type of fuel since the mid 1950s," said John Winslow, coal fuels manager for the DOE's Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh. "But to deploy it in the United States, we need to drive down the costs."
In addition to the University of Kentucky, the consortium includes researchers from West Virginia and Auburn universities and the universities of Pittsburgh and Utah.