Clean Coal - The Answer To Energy Crisis? - Part 4 of Series

This week we've told you about initiatives to convert coal to liquid fuel, how it's done, and the demand it would bring to coal operations in Eastern Kentucky. In our fourth and final part of our coal to liquid fuel series we examine where the nation might go without gaining independence from foreign oil.

It's no secret that America is dependent on unstable countries for oil. In fact, that's how we get 67 percent of our transportation fuel.

"Why would a country like America, the super power of the world, be buying fuels from countries in the Middle East? We could have problems next week there," said Ken Nemeth with the Southern States Energy Board.

It's a common question, especially among engineers who have seen the benefits of Fischer-Tropsch wax being made on the University of Kentucky's campus. Dr. Burt Davis says if the 87 billion dollars appropriated for the first year of war in Iraq were invested in these plants, the nation would be on it's way to independence.

"If we had invested that $87 billion in Fisher-Tropsh plants, we could have made seven and a half percent of the crude that we import," Dr. Davis said.

"Our study says that we can do this within a period of 30 years. We can become completely independent," Nemeth said.

Ken Nemeth, the Southern States Energy Board Executive Director, says that could happen with an aggressive investment of at least five percent per year. But if the plants are built, Representative Rocky Adkins says there will be another problem.

"We have a big shortage in this country of engineers," Adkins said.

Adkins says we can't compete with China's 700 thousand graduating engineers and India's 400 thousand, who can all speak English, with America's 75 thousand. That's why the new Kentucky Junior Coal Academy in Lawrence County schools is so important.

"It's real exciting knowing you can go out of high school and go straight to a good paying job or just go on in a larger degree, engineering," said student Daniel Howard.

Alternative fuel engineers say it's about national security as well.

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