National Energy Policy Institute

The Prospective Role of Unconventional Liquid Fuels

Publication Date: June 23, 2010

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The Prospective Role of Unconventional Liquid Fuels: Joel Darmstadter (Resources for the Future)

This paper explores the prospective contribution to the U.S. oil supply of unconventional liquid fuels
(synthetic fuels, or synfuels for short) over the next 20 years. The liquids in question are those derived
from U.S. oil shale resources, U.S. coal, and Canadian oil sands, all of which are nonrenewable but exist
in great abundance. As fossil resources, however, all three synfuels are more carbon intensive than
petroleum products derived from conventional crude oil. This paper explores the economic viability of
these fuel sources, and discusses their carbon contribution and various other nongreenhouse
environmental uncertainties that remain to be fully addressed. The pursuit of carbon dioxide capture
and long-term geologic containment are as vital a research and development imperative for these as for
other energy conversion processes, such as coal-fueled electric generation.

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