The place to end oil dependence1 is at the oil refinery. The job of the oil refinery is to break down the crude oil (chemical splitting) at the molecular level, by separating the molecules and then recombining them in such a way that they become useful fuels and chemicals. The refinery only needs a cheap source of hydrocarbon molecules. In the past, crude oil has always been the cheapest source.
When crude oil is selling above $50 per barrel, synthetic fuels made from coal or other non-petroleum sources of hydrocarbon molecules become economically competitive — but only if refineries have the technology to “refine” unconventional hydrocarbons and biomass, in addition to petroleum.
As a matter of National Security, the USA needs multi-use refineries that are designed to accept and process multiple types of feedstock: light crude oil, heavy crude oil, coal, and biomass. The multi-use capacity must be immediate, in other words, the refinery must be capable of switching from one type of feedstock to another in case of shortage or supply interruption, and make the switchover immediately, not weeks or months later. In this way, the refineries will create competition between suppliers of the various types of feedstock. And, the American people will directly benefit from competition at the supply side of the refining process.
The 21st Century Hydrocarbon Refinery will include petroleum distillation columns along with advanced gasification technology, and be capable of crossover feeds that would take advantage of processes or by-products from one type of feedstock that might add value to another type of feedstock or its process. These new refineries will include Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology to produce electricity, and nuclear thermal energy to provide carbon-free heat for the thermochemical processes within the refinery.
Synthetic fuels—diesel, alcohol and jet fuel—are obtained from synthesis gas, which is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide molecules produced by a process involving the gasification of hydrocarbons. Any hydrocarbon source can be used to produce synthesis gas, which then feeds into the Fischer-Tropsch process to obtain synthetic fuels.
When synthesis gas is produced from coal, the synthetic fuels obtained are called CTL (Coal-to-Liquids). When synthesis gas is produced from biomass, the synthetic fuels obtained are called BTL (Biomass-to-Liquid).
1 dependence: When we speak of oil dependence, in the context of energy independence, we are talking about dependence on foreign governments to supply our nation’s oil—which effectively gives those governments control over the U.S. economy as well as influence over U.S. political and legislative outcomes.
Energy independence is not about ending the use of petroleum, nor is it about cooling the climate; energy independence is about cooling the hotheads — the terrorists who depend on Middle-East oil wealth to finance the dissemination of their anti-American, anti-European hate propaganda.