At Esurance, we pride ourselves on being the foremost authority on coal and all of its scientific uses.

OK … maybe that’s not entirely (or even remotely) true.

But one coal trend is of particular interest to us: the notion that this resource (often associated with West Virginia and empty holiday stockings) could actually power our cars.

And the crazy thing about this new idea is that it’s not really that crazy — or new. In fact, Germans have been liquefying coal for use as motor fuel since WWII (when they were cut off from the Middle East and its oil supply). And here in the U.S., we’ve been tinkering with new versions of that very process since 2009.

Now, you might be asking, “If turning coal into motor fuel is so time-tested, why aren’t we doing it on a regular basis?”

The case against coal as gasoline

The main argument against using coal as liquid fuel is simple. It basically says that while the shortage of oil on our planet is a big deal, the threat of global warming is a bigger one — and liquefying coal would not help.

Even the newest methods of transforming coal into fuel (ones that cut back on carbon monoxide) aren’t enough to make fuel clean. Experts say there’s no way to prevent harmful emissions from hitting the atmosphere and causing both health and environmental dangers when we liquefy coal.

The case for coal as gasoline

Those who support using coal for gasoline feel a bit differently. Many of them say that cutting dependency on foreign oil, not halting climate change, is the more urgent matter. And while liquefying coal, and the harmful emissions that come with it, wouldn’t be a permanent solution, supporters believe it would be a solid intermediate step. In other words, it would let us break our oil dependency and search for more sustainable options without neglecting our energy (and driving) needs.

Along with that, there’s another positive aspect to liquefying coal for gasoline: we know we can do it. It’s actually a piece of cake (relatively speaking). And with all the brain-busting our scientific leaders have been doing in search of energy, it can be comforting to know we have at least one option nailed down.

The hung jury

One other issue at play here, one without such defined sides, is how using coal as gasoline for vehicles would affect the burgeoning electric car industry. Is this whole coal craze simply getting in the way of the electric movement, which could prove to be the best option down the road? Or, in the true fashion of capitalism, would coal competition be a good way to keep the electric car business striving and improving?

Clearly, there’s a lot to consider when discussing coal as a viable fuel option. Where do you stand on the matter? Leave a comment below.

Getting there


about Alex

As copywriter for Esurance, Alex had professional experience in everything from film to literature to (thanklessly!) correcting the grammar in friends' emails. As a fervent Minnesota sports fan, he spends most of his non-writing time gently weeping into cereal bowls.