New facility will convert coal, waste into clean liquid fuel

By Jarrod Thacker

A new UK endeavor could soon allow Kentucky coal to find its way into everyone’s vehicle.

UK President Eli Capilouto along with others symbolically broke ground on the construction site of a new coal and biomass processing facility Tuesday at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research. Those joining Capilouto included U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers and Geoff Davis, Kentucky House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins and Rodney Andrews, the center’s director.

The facility will be capable of converting coal and biomass, a term used to collectively describe plant and waste products, into liquid fuel that can be used in vehicles. The Fischer-Tropsch process allows liquid hydrocarbons to be created from the infusion of carbon monoxide and hydrogen via gasification.

Adkins, along with others, discussed the influx of jobs the industry would bring into the state, as well as add to the state’s sense of energy independence.

“This issue of energy is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s a people issue,” Adkins said when talking about legislation surrounding the project. “If you can’t control your energy, you can’t control your economy.”

The new Coal/Biomass-to-Liquids Facility will be able to produce one barrel of fuel per day, and the product will be comparable to ultra-clean diesel and jet fuel, Andrews said.

A facility of this kind does not yet exist in Kentucky.

Before the actual ceremony, those involved with the project spoke of the potential effects that the new energy source would have on Kentucky and the U.S. as a whole.

Rogers and Davis echoed the governmental support for the project, citing the potential reduced prices of gasoline and lowered dependency on foreign petroleum.

“This project reflects the best that a land-grant university should do,” Rogers said.

The $5.7 million production facility is a collaborative effort between federal, state, UK and private institutions.

Adkins said $4.5 million of the cost was supported by the federal government, $750,000 by the state and $450,000 by UK.

“A vision without funding is a hallucination,” Adkins said.

Capilouto reinforced the university’s stance on improving the state during his presentation.

“One of our chief missions at the University of Kentucky is to attack the challenges that face our commonwealth, and as our demand for energy grows, so must our ability to produce it responsibly,” he said.

The facility is expected to open in 2012, UK spokeswoman Jenny Wells said.