LEBANON, Va. — Dr. Richard Wolfe kept busy in the early 1990s in Bristol Virginia, at a small plant near I-81’s Exit 7.
There, the scientist helped convert coal into gasoline.
Wolfe also helped oversee 15 CTC (Coal Technology Corporation) gasoline stations, from 1989 to 1993, with locations in Bristol, Virginia, as well as Abingdon.
Today, this Renaissance man — a mountain climber, author, winemaker — is heralding his idea on “How to Make the Coal Industry Great Again.”
But he doesn’t want to just burn black gold. “You don’t need to be burning coal,” Wolfe said. “Coal is almost too valuable to burn.”
Wolfe, now in his 70s, says coal can be used to make gasoline — a process that’s been ongoing in South Africa for 50 years.
Such conversion plants, he said, are also being built in China.
“This is my life’s work,” said Wolfe, who now resides at Banner Elk, North Carolina.
On Thursday from noon-1 p.m., Wolfe is speaking to the Russell County Rotary Club in a meeting that is open to the public. It’s being held at the Pat’s Country Diner, 1178 W. Main St., in Lebanon, Virginia.
“This clean coal conversion technology to transportation fuels was the primary reason that I left the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., and joined United Coal here in Bristol in April, 1979, to build the first coal-to-methanol gasoline plant here in Virginia,” Wolfe said.
The entrepreneur believes “passionately that commercializing these new markets for coal is the way of the future for our coal industry in every coal producing state. And I would like to see Virginia lead the way.”
Wolfe hopes to inspire investors to the tune of about $2 billion — what it will take to build a plant to convert coal into gasoline.
“There are some new markets for coal besides just burning the coal. And that is converting coal into chemical and transportation fuels,” Wolfe said. “Transportation fuels are a big issue, because we’re still importing oil. And we’ve got coal sitting right here in the ground.”
Such a plant could inspire the creation of “thousands of manufacturing jobs” plus put coal miners back to work, said Wolfe, a co-owner of the Wise, Virginia-based Virginia Carbonite, LLC.
Wolfe proposes such a plant should exist in each coal-producing state.
“And use our own coal to make our own gasoline right here in the coalfields. Miners are sitting here unemployed, and we’ve got all this coal in the ground,” Wolfe said. “It’s almost a shame.”
The United States boasts over 260 billion tons of coal in the ground — or 28 percent of the world’s reserves, Wolfe notes in his presentation’s executive summary.
Nearly 30 years ago, when Wolfe’s gas stations were in business, the coal-turned-to-gas was mixed with crude oil in a blend.
But now, Wolfe said, you could simply convert coal into gasoline or diesel fuel.
Wolfe’s campaign includes contacting government leaders for support to build Coal to Liquids Synfuel plants, which, he said, could convert up to 10,000 tons of coal per day into 25,000 barrels of coal liquids per day.
“We’re going to put the coal industry back to work,” Wolfe said. “This is not new. It’s being done ... We have to create our own new market.”
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