Coal as a modern fuel

14th January 2010, 19:36
I remember in the 80's there was serious research going on in developing new and more efficient ways of burning coal on ships. One of the ideas under development was the production of coal slurries, micro particles blended with fluid (water or oil?) for injection into a diesel engine or boiler burners.

Does anyone know where this went? Coal is still quite plentiful and has some advantages over cude oil derived fuels (safe carriage and handling, less sea pollution risk in carriage...........).

Look forward to your comments.

15th January 2010, 12:10
Hi, Greektoon,

I was involved with BP, I think arround the 80's, in the combustion trials of a coal oil slurry mix. The major problems were achieving automation as well as high ash deposits and their excessive errosion properties. As far as I am aware nothing commercial ever resulted from this work.

Direct injection of coal into the cylinders of a compression ignition engine, as Dr. Diesel originally envisaged, would I guess come up against most of the same problems.

I await with interest the views of others.


15th January 2010, 14:00
Thanks MWD. Very interesting. Shouldn't we be adapting the hardware to cope with the combustion properties of coal. Now is the time for some innovation surely.

Pat Kennedy
15th January 2010, 19:25
I remember reading somewhere that Rudolf Diesel's prototype engine did in fact run on pulverized coal as fuel, but Diesel changed the fuel to oil after an explosion killed his partner.
Looking round the internet I did come up with some information.
There are projects ongoing in China and the USA to develop coal/water slurry engines, in the knowledge that oil and gas will one day run out, and that there are vast reserves of unmined coal.
The US Department of Energy have with General Electric, developed a coal fired diesel locomotive which is still in prototype stage, and have also developed with Cooper-Bessemer a coal fueled diesel generator with ship's engine sized (15.5" Diameter)cylinders. This project is sited at Mount Vernon, Ohio.
Information about this project is at this link;
However as a non-engineer, the technical details go over my head.

uisdean mor
15th January 2010, 19:40
Yup Pat
The science is all there. nippon did build a long stroke opposed piston slow revving engine ( gotaverken type copy) and the ash/residue issue with the water quantity was found to be the main quality concern. Not sure what happened eventually but did hear that wear rates were still quite high. I was buy on other things around that time and lost track of the developments. good to see it is still there in someones mind. The absolute pits was the coal oil slurry mix - this really was the fuel from hell in more ways that pure power/economics - in environmental terms it is a million miles worse than anything else ever considered.Thanks for your research. i enjoy catching up with the various threads of progress via SN

15th January 2010, 22:54
British Coal had a specialist plant for creating /manufacturing oil from coal at Point of Ayr colliery in North Wales. It mimicked the SASOL plant operating in South Africa. It ran for a two or three week cycle and then was shud down for intrusive investigation until the next run many,many weeks later.

It always seemed very very secretive to me on the few occasions I was there. It certainly fouled up the breaking system on one's car getting to and from the place.

I believe the complex is still there but doing other non British Coal research work. Can anyone expand on this?



16th January 2010, 04:48
Alternative uses for and methods of processing coal is undergoing a time of rapid change as far as the Australian, and particularly Queensland markets are concerned.
Queensland now claims to be the world’s biggest net exporter of coal with the bulk of its both steaming and metallurgical coals going to China, India and Japan along with similar high volumes of iron ores and other mineral concentrates sourced from West Australia and other areas.
While this is going on moves are afoot to utilize the vast quantities of high grade coal deep underground or in difficult strata that are inaccessible for open cast recovery or are otherwise unsuitable for solid extraction and the current activities include the following

1, Coal seam gasification;

Some big name companies such as Arrow Energy, Shell, Conoco-Phillips and British Gas are planning to drill down into the coal mass and apply heat for gasification of the volatiles in the buried fuel and the recovered product will be pumped to a seaport terminal for export world wide aboard LNG type vessels.
There is an abundance of information about these projects on

Has LNG been considered as an engine fuel for these specialist ships?

2’ Underground coal gasification and well head utilization for electricity generation.

There are several companies active in this area but the Carbon Energy website gives all the details of the general project

3, Underground coal gasification and gas to liquid conversion.

This field is being led by local company Linc Energy who have already built a successful pilot plant at Chinchilla Qld. They are currently planning the construction of several 20,000 barrels per day plants on suitable coal fields in Australia, Viet Nam and the USA. They talk about maintaining competitiveness with crude oil down to world prices as low as $30 per barrel.
Again their claims to future fame can be found on

It is not coal use for motor ships but an interesting step to use hard to recover coal as a final liquid fuel

My interest is in the few shares that I have in the Carbon and Linc companies albeit as a fool or a fortune hunter!


Pat Kennedy
16th January 2010, 16:17
Underground coal gasification really means setting fire to a coal seam and capturing all the products of combustion, which include Hydrogen, Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, and Nitrogen, otherwise known as 'producer gas' and which was once known in the UK as 'town gas'
This was what was produced in gasworks all over the world by heating coal, collecting the ensuing gas, and leaving behind a useful residue of coke.
The problem is that once you ignite an underground coal seam, you have little or no control over the fire.
This link tells the story of the town of Centralia Pennsylvania which has had an underground fire burning away beneath it since 1962, resulting in abandonment of the town due to parts of the bedrock it is built on collapsing into the void spaces left by the burned coal seam beneath, and the emission of toxic fumes from the ground.

16th January 2010, 20:04
Pat, the process it a lot more controlled than that but you need to look at the diagrams and explanations on the company websites.
Essentially what the Linc Energy company is doing is what Hitler did with Ruhr Valley coal to get liquid fuel during the war but the modern process is far more advanced and pollutant free due to subterranean gas release and an advanced catalyctic gas to liquid process above.

Bob l