Not too many years ago, I suspect, it would have been somewhat remarkable for a Director of the Bureau of Mines to speak to an audience of petroleum producers on the subject of synthetic fluid fuels from coal. It would have been even more remarkable, I am sure, for you to have invited a speech on such a subject. I think this is a good indication of how our thinking has changed in the past couple of decades.
No longer do we think of individual fuel commodities competing intensely for limited markets. Our concept today is of, a single huge energy market, which is growing so fast, that it takes every fuel-resource we have -- and then some -- to try to keep up with it. And to complicate the problem, we cannot hope to satisfy this burgeoning market simply with fuel. It must be clean fuel.
We are, as you know, faced in the short term with highly probable energy shortages. I am referring to the period up to about 1985. Over the longer term, an energy crisis of major proportions looms. Unless we do everything sensible that can be done with our fuel resources and do it very quickly, these events are inevitable. Hence, the subject of my paper.
The phrase "Clean Synthetic Fluid Fuels From Coal", implies that it is possible to obtain adequate and dependable supplies of fuel without sacrificing the quality of our air, water, and land. I am convinced that it is possible. Because of the long lead times needed to develop technical feasibility, into commercial reality, however, we must make vigorous efforts w if we are to do it.
The available options for clean. fuels include many exotic sources, Like solar and geothermal power, fuel cells, and thermionic and thermoelectric systems. But we have three basic energy criteria -- abundance, reliability, and commercial availability by 1985. Only processes based on converting coal and oil shale to clean, synthetic fluid fuels can meet all three.
Why coal? Simply because it is our most abundant domestic natural fuel. Recoverable s, estimated at 390 billion tons, would last about 600 years at the current rate of consumption. If we use our coal , estimated at 32 trillion tans, as a base, coal's availability at the current rate of consumption would increase proportionately. Even though all this coal could not be recovered economically with present mining technology, there is time to develop new technologies for the recovery of energy from l of our coal.
Technologies for converting coal to gas and to oil have been around for a long time, but they do not entirely meet today's needs for clean synthetic gases and oils at reasonable costs. Consequently, intensive research and development work has been conducted during the past 10 years or so, and this work has led to second-generation conversion concepts -- concepts that are better suited to our current national needs.