Our Vision on Clean Coal to Liquids

Eventually, all energy will have to come from sustainable sources, i.e. the sun. In the transition period, which is likely to last several decades, energy from fossil sources will continue to be used on a large scale, including the enormous amounts of carbon stored as coal and gas.

Liquid fuels such as gasoline and diesel are attractive as medium for storing and transporting energy, as their energy content per unit of volume and weight is unsurpassed, and the necessary infrastructure is widely available. These factors make conversion technologies as gas, biomass and, not in the least, coal-to-liquids attractive options. Synthesis gas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, is the key intermediate in all these conversions. Hence, the chemistry of synthesis gas (or syngas) is a key topic in catalysis.

Our partner Synfuels China Technology Co., Ltd. Is a renowned specialist in converting coal to liquid fuels in a clean way, based on a more than 30 years long tradition of R&D. Syngaschem BV is proud to be Synfuels China’s partner for fundamental research in catalysis and surface chemistry.

Clean Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) technology is greatly preferable to direct and distributed combustion of coal, as toxic impurities can (and have to) be removed in syngas generation. The challenge of CTL is that additional hydrogen is needed, which should be produced without generation of extra CO2 to reduce the carbon foot print to the level of GTL technology.

On the long term, syngas derived from CO2 and solar H2 provides the perspective of a sustainable route to non-fossil fuels, which still offer the energy density and convenience of today’s transportation fuels. Fundamental knowledge and well-trained people form the key ingredient for optimizing these technologies.

According to a study of 2008, 2-3 x1012 barrels of fuel can be produced in potential using GTL and CTL technology all together. At the present rate of consumption, this covers global fuel supply for 60 – 80 years.

However, at the moment production costs in GTL and CTL are considerably higher than in conventional fuel production. Reducing these production costs is a huge challenge as well as a huge opportunity.

World wide capacities of GTL and, in particular, CTL are expected to grow in coming years. The major growth of CTL is realized in China using technology developed by Synfuels China.

Our Research Philosophy on CTL

At the moment, our research focuses on understanding the iron-catalyzed FTS process. We believe, that such understanding will enable the improvement of the catalyst’s activity, selectivity, and stability. Investigating new routes in wax refining could play its part to make clean CTL even more profitable in the future. Reducing the carbon footprint of coal-to-liquid technology as a whole receives our full attention by actively supporting research on sustainable hydrogen.

All this cannot be done alone and on short notice. Many highly educated and fully developed scientists coming from different disciplines are required to work together for many years in order to enforce significant breakthroughs.

We feel privileged that our partner, Synfuels China, enables us to jointly constitute a new laboratory for fundamental catalysis in Beijing, where – in close collaboration with an international network of universities and research institutes – we can put the research philosophy outlined above into practice.

“Science is the right guide for the future”

In February 2015, Professor Yong-wang Li, Founder and CEO of Synfuels China Co. Ltd., published a note on Research Gate, entitled “The Force Driving the Research on Energy reminding: we are working for future by using Funding from current activities”. There he set out his ideas on finding solutions for sustainable energy. Research in this area threatens to become under pressure in the current temporary economic climate of abundant cheap oil.


He stated that without fundamental scientific knowledge we will not be able to find energy solutions that are truly sustainable. In the end we may need to look at behavior of materials at the quantum level: “future energy resources must be related to the fine control of the fundamental structures and functionalities of many materials due to weak interactions that we are now unfamiliar with.” It will easily take 100 years to discover such knowledge and transfer it into technology. For companies, such new fundamental knowledge helps to safeguard our competitive position.

Meanwhile we all continue to need fossil fuels. The clean and responsible application of coal can expand these resources, and also help to generate funding for new scientific know how and technologies, and to educate young scientists for these tough challenges. Our younger generation should be encouraged  to work in this essential area.

Professor Li concludes with: “In my own trust, science always gives us the right guide to the future. The true driving force should come purely from science.