Industrial interest in synthetic oil production by coal liquefaction in Alberta has been only moderate. As conventional oil production declines and the energy companies gear up to tackle the oil sands and conventional heavy oils, Is It possible that the coal-liquefaction option is being overlooked?

The authors briefly review the state-of-the-art on the basic methods by Which coal liquefaction may be possible in Alberta and in particular discuss the effects of coal quality on product yields. The scenario involving liquefaction of surface-mined coal is compared with two other major synfuel options, namely, surface mined oil sands and the In-situ heavy oil routes. Criteria considered In the comparison include resource base technology maturity, product slate, socio-ecological concerns and economic parameters. Finally the sensitivity of variables such as plant size, coal-bitumen Integration and product Slate are overviewed Together with a discussion of some of the key parameters which impact on the process economics.


In 1976 Algas Resources Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Alberta Gas Trunk Line Company Limited began a series of studies to determine whether coal converted to gaseous or liquid fuels may provide one of the more practical options to the dwindling natural gas and crude oil reservoirs of Canada. The initial studies has broadly based and was entitled "Coal Conversion in Alberta" for identifying the more promising process/product combinations or the e-emerging coal conversion industry in the U.S. and abroad. Or the 52 identified possibilities the study actually investigated 36 and ranked these in order or their economic viability. The most promising aspect was found to be in the manufacture or methanol by means at coal gasification. The emerging "Gas Bubble" of 1978 and The subsequent consensus in the industry that the problem of the day was to find markets for the available natural gas rather than making costly substitutes, closed the book on the company's immediate interest in coal gasification.

A coarse economic comparison of crude oil options from oil sands and heavy oil indicated that with increased world oil prices the conversion of low cost AIberta coal to liquid fuels appeared to have the potential or becoming an attractive third synfuel option. In 1979 AIgas, using the experience and data from the earlier work, commenced work on a cold liquefaction investigation in conjunction with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) in Ottawa and Energy and Natural Resources (EMR) in Edmonton. The work is currently in a first phase feasibility Project which is discussed in detail in Section 2.2.

In Section 2.1 an overview of the current developing coal liquefaction technologies is given, including the current projects and a discussion of the question, "Can Alberta coals be liquefied on a large scale?"

Section 3 considers the contribution of synthetic fuel products in the reduction of the demand/supply gap in crude oil during The 1980's and 1990's.

A comparison of the three major synfuel options (i.e., cost liquefaction, oil sands and heavy oil) is presented in Section 4.

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