Synthetic fuel

I’ve dug out several of my aviation books, and have been reading ones on WWII. One of the biggest problems Germany faced toward the end of the war was lack of fuel. Thousands and thousands of aircraft were produced, but could not be used because of empty fuel tanks. (Interestingly, their jets could fly because they flew on less volatile fuel than gasoline, which was scarce.) The Germans had synthetic fuel plants – Ersatz fuel, IIRC – which derived gasoline and other fuels from coal.

How viable an option is it to make gasoline, kerosene (‘jet fuel’), and diesel fuel from coal? What about a blend of coal-derived synthetic fuel plus ethanol? Are any gaseous fuels in useful quantities made at the same time?

While it is competely possible to make the various fuels used by modern vehicals from coal, and blending in ethanol would be no more difficult or expensive than current ethanol blends. Right now, it is more expensive than regular petroleum derived fuels, but as oil prices rise sythetic fuels will become viable.

Sasol, a South African company is largest producer of synthetic fuels, though their website seems useless in figuring out the exact amount they produce. They developed this infrastructure during the Apartheid era, when there was oil embargos placed on South Africa.

Reading a little about this yesterday. Robert Zubrin ( “The Case For Mars” a good book about man to Mars ) has an article about it here:

Robert Zubrin says " Ethanol can currently be produced for about $1.50 per gallon, and methanol is selling for $0.90 per gallon"
You get less milage from these fuels so its the cost per mile would be about the same as a current gallon of gasoline.
The key is methanol can be made from coal.
“This can be provided by methanol, which can come from both a broader array of biomass materials and also from coal and natural gas.”

There is also a proffesor from Cornell, David Pintel, who says after researching, bio fiuels are not cost effective.
“Turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates”

I wasn’t aware that jet warplanes made their debut until the Korean War. Were these just prototypes, or did any Nazi jets ever see action?

Yep. Here’s the Wikipedia page on the Me 262, the first jet fighter to see combat. Other German jets that saw action in WW2 include the He 162 and the Ar 234.

See what happens when I avoid the internet? Someone answers an airplane question before I can!

Incidentally, the Gloster Meteor was delivered to the Royal Air Force in mid-1944. It shot down V-1 aerial bombs, but never engaged the Luftwaffe. The USAAF received the XP-59A Airacomet in 1942, but it was never produced in quantity and never saw action. I used to drive by one on a pedestal everyday when I worked at Edwards AFB. The first operational jet in the U.S. was the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, which entered service in early-1945. Four were delivered to Europe, but none saw combat in WWII. The Japanese flew the Nakajima Kikka, which somewhat resembled the ME-262, only one time before the war ended. They also had plans to develop the Nakajima Ki-201 Karyu, which looked very similar to the ME-262, but none were ever completed.

The Germans built between 2000 and 3000 ME-262’s. I seem to remember the number 2600. Most of them were used as fighter-attack planes on the eastern front.

Here is a picture of me with one that’s a little the worse for wear.

Yet another of Hitler’s military blunders. They had a plane that could shoot down American and British bombers at will, and it was used as a ground attack plane. :smack: Lucky for us Hitler didn’t die suddenly of natural causes in 1940, or Europe would probably be a very different place today.

It may or may not have been a blunder but it does throw some light on what the Germans considered their most crucial need.

Cool pic, David.

I’m reading The First And The Last, a memoir written by Adolf Galland about his experiences in the Luftwaffe during WWII. Haven’t gotten to the ME-262s yet.

In any case:

I haven’t gotten round to reading the links yet. (Been reading Galland’s book.) But from your quote I gather it’s about making methanol from coal and other sources?

Can synthetic gasoline be made from coal? Or was the synthetic fuel used by the Germans in WWII methanol?

Where’s Una? She’s got this kind of stuff memorized.

Synthetic gas can be made from any hydrocarbon source - there is a test plant in Carthage Missouri that is making gasoline (and other useful products) out of turkey offal.

First, an interesting website on the history of converting coal to gasoline in the US:

It’s also important to note that there are two primary F-T processes: low-temperature and high-temperature. When comparing figures, you need to make sure you’re looking at the high-temperture process (which takes place at about 350 C) because that is what is used for making gasoline.

To answer a question earlier which I’m sure everyone’s forgotten about, Sasol has several different FT plants. Their Secunda SA one does about 150,000 bbl per day, and they licensed their technology to Mossgas for a 22,500 bbl per day plant.

There are several problems that have to be addressed, with removal of the sulfur and ash from the coal being two of the most critical ones. Some might think heavy metals are the biggest issue but crude oil has its own heavy metals problem, just different elements. It’s damnably hard to find an actual cost figure that is believeable - it’s like dealing with the “turkey guts gasifier” people. They quote these incredible figures (only $1 per gallon to make gasoline!) and yet when it comes time to actually produce, somehow the figures double or triple. I’ve seen cost estimates for the FT process in relatively modern dollars being from $0.40 per gallon to $5.00 per gallon. Many times when quotes are made in the paper they are including only the “raw” cost of the conversion, and nothing else like the overheads, waste disposal, catalyst replacement, etc.

The capital cost of building the plants is sustantial. I’ve seen figures that suggest it is about $25,000 per barrel per day capacity, even more in somce cases (the Sasol plant in SA was about $25,000). See this cite for some scary figures for a Montana plant.


Given that we used millions of barrels per day of gasoline and diesel, $7.5B for just 150,000 bbl per day is a lot of money.

Chem-E was a long time ago for some of us.

Thanks, Una. Interesting article.

And thanks for the wikilink, Squink. (Though I actually searched for it myself after reading Una’s link. :wink: )

Not to be out done, the Italains had the Campini Caproni CC.2 which was the first jet to ever fly in public on 27 August, 1940. The first jet ever to fly was the He 178 on November 1 1939.

"In Kingsport, Tennessee, a plant participating in the Department of Energy’s Clean Coal Technology Program combines both processes, for clean mass production of methanol from coal at under $0.50 a gallon. "
Methanol can be used as a synthetic fuel for automobiles. From the Zubrin link "This year, Detroit will offer some two dozen models of standard cars with a flex-fuel option available for purchase. "
“flexible-fuel vehicles capable of burning any combination of gasoline and alcohol. The alcohols so employed could be either methanol or ethanol.”

I can’t resist pointing out that Preston Tucker hired Campini after the war, presumably to use Campini’s automotive turbine designs in some future car.