Abstract

Major uses of coal outside of conventional combustion and coke-making are briefly discussed. Particular attention is directed to gasification and hydrogenation(by which coal can be converted into a synthetic "pipeline gas" or synthetic liquid Fuels and chemicals); to the manufacture of structural and adsorbent carbons; and to the possibility of deploying oxidized coal or easily prepared coal derivatives as agro biological materials (e.g. plant nutrients, soil conditioners, etc.) and cheap ion-exchange solids.

It is suggested that some of these "other uses" with gasification perhaps mainly designed to "stretch"available supplies of natural gas – could begin to play important roles in Western Canada's economy before the end of the Seventies.

Mostly undertaken in order to improve the economics of coal utilization in particular market areas, and sosecure these markets against competition, R&D on other – usually non-fuel – uses of coal dates back to before the turn of the century, but has since then undergone important changes in direction. Early efforts were, as a rule, only concerned with devising means" for more profitable deployment of by-products (such as coke oven tars) or unsalable small coal accruing from the production of preferred sizes, and were thus analogous to the efforts later made by other resource industries to develop outlets for their "wastes ". Since the late 1920's however, and more especially since the end of the 2nd World War – when oil and gas-began to invade and quickly usurp traditional coal markets in domestic heating and industrial steam-raising – much of the search for other uses has, perforce, come to centre on coal itself. For, what had to be resolved was, in many instances, no longer how one might use coal more effectively or economically, but rather what use one might make of coal per se.

The success that has so far accompanied efforts to develop other uses, as substitutes For vanishing traditionaloutlets has not been an unqualified one. As a chemical raw material, coal proved to be for more intractable than had generally been supposed and the long-cherished belief in the versatility of coal – which, on occasion, impelled organic chemists to endeavours well beyond the limits of conventional Fuel technology – became increasingly difficult to maintain. Whatever useful chemicals or chemical precursors could be produced from coal could also, and almost always better or more cheaply, be made from petroleum or natural gas. And to make matters worse because of its solidity and complex geometry, coal could only very rarely take advantage of progress in catalysis on which so much of contemporary chemical industry depends.

Pending major breakthroughs in ongoing laboratory studies industrial development of classic approaches to"other uses" – e.g. thermal or oxidative degradation of the coal substance into materials more amenable to secondary processing than coal – has therefore now been virtually abandoned.

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