Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fueling the Fourth Reich

I've been tricked, duped, hoodwinked and bamboozled. Back in February, I suffered a momentary lapse of judgement. Without following the hype to its ultimate source, I erroneously surmised that perhaps the USAF was on the cusp of a new era of conservation and alternative energy development. I was mistaken. Instead of charting a new course for the future of American energy security, the USAF is mining the ignominious past to bring Nazi and apartheid South African coal gasification into peak production as the mainstay of American energy security. The USAF is going to further enrich Sasol and set a grim mold for future American energy security. It is an endless and profound irony that the American military - and by extension America itself - is compelled to stake its energy future on methods devised and depended upon by the world's most evil and hated regimes.
It's not at all hyperbolic to observe that the apartheid regime picked up where the Nazis left off when it came to producing gasoline from coal. Nazism, apartheid, and international sanctions created a fuel source that might never have existed in a better world.

The circuitous travels of the Fischer-Tropsch process, a chemical technique to convert natural gas and coal into liquid fuels, provide an object lesson in historical irony. Used by the Nazis to make oil from coal during World War II, it was commercialized by the century's second-most-odious racial supremacist regime in the 1950s through South Africa's state energy company. Now, that privatized company, Sasol, may help liberate Western democracies (and non-Western ones, like India) from the grip of crude oil produced largely by loathsome authoritarian regimes.

Sasol is the ExxonMobil of South Africa, though its annual sales of about $10 billion are around what Exxon Mobil does in about 10 days. With 30,000 employees, including the largest number of Ph.D.s of any company in the Southern Hemisphere, Sasol is one of South Africa's largest employers. It produces about 38 percent of South Africa's fuel needs and accounts for about 4.4 percent of the country's GDP.
As the US Air Force continues engine testing in a drive to quench its huge thirst for fuel with synthetic blends, pioneering energy company Sasol of South Africa is nearing approval of a 100% synthetic jet fuel. Airlines are looking to coal-to-liquid and gas-to-liquid fuels as drop-in replacements for expensive and finite petrol­eum, and global development of facilities to produce these alternative jet fuels is well underway. Coal - the jet fuel of the future.....,