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1 Gov’t Mandated New Energy Source

From the archives of the former news magazine, Time:

Synthetic oil plant at Zeitz, Germany, destroyed by Americans in aerial bombing operations during World War II. 1944.

Recycling Nazi Secrets

Monday Apr 18, 1977

If the U.S. is in an energy bind, consider the one that Nazi Germany faced in the 1930s: it prepared to fight a world war with no secure reserves of oil at all. The Germans’ solution was to make oil from coal, and they did that so successfully that after 1944 (when oil supplies from Nazi-aligned Rumania were bombed out) the Luftwaffe planes flew, and the Reich tanks rolled, almost exclusively on coal-derived gasoline. Could the Nazi know-how help the U.S. three decades later?

The question occurred to Professor Richard Wainerdi, a chemical engineer at Texas A. & M. He and a colleague. Historian Arnold Krammer, set out 18 months ago to look up what was known about the German synthetic-oil program. It proved an unexpectedly arduous task.

Not for lack of documents. Because the Germans were compulsive record keepers, the entire history of the program—plant diagrams, patent descriptions, detailed reports on which catalysts and additives work best, even the monthly reports of Hitler’s 25 oil-from-coal plants—fell into American hands at the end of the war. But crude oil was available then in ample supply at $2 per bbl., and the man-made oil cost up to five times as much. So the German documents were filed and forgotten. Wainerdi and Krammer found some of the papers in the National Archives in Washington and others stuffed into crates in Government buildings around the country. Until the two men came along, the documents had lain untouched for 30 years.

The Texas A. & M. specialists have located about 300,000 documents, only 15% of which had been catalogued after the war. Dow Chemical, Union Carbide and Diamond Shamrock will help underwrite the massive job of collating all the information and feeding it into a computer at the federally run Oak Ridge Energy Center, where it will be available to anyone who wants it. Already some interesting findings have turned up. For example, German scientists discovered a method of capturing the sulfuric acid released by coal when it is turned into oil; that could point to an important pollution-control technique.

The basic technology for turning coal into oil or gas is known to just about every chemistry graduate student. But until now, it has been considered uneconomic—though a plant built in South Africa with the help of German scientists has been turning out gas from coal for more than 20 years, and some American companies are planning their own installations. Wainerdi and Krammer hope that the Nazi documents will show the way for other firms to avoid whatever mistakes the Germans made and design plants more efficiently. Says Krammer: "Why re-invent the wheel?"

Alas, they made oil from coal.

Still, Time was in admiration. Of course this is an article written before the invention of ‘Global Warming.’

To be fair (or at least more accurate) synthetic fuel was first developed by Friedrich Bergius in 1913, in Germany.

For which he got a Nobel Prize.

Those were the days.

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, July 3rd, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

2 Responses to “1 Gov’t Mandated New Energy Source”

  1. tranquil.night says:

    Of course this is an article written before the invention of ‘Global Warming.’

    In fact I think Time was reporting on the danger of imminent Global Cooling right around ’77.

    Oil from coal, how quaint, I wonder if Carter had paid attention in Chem class at any one of the three colleges he attended. 30 something years later and we’re still talking about pumping millions of dollars into making crappy fuel from corn.

  2. proreason says:

    Carter, fool though he is, didn’t lock onto energy as a device to implement facism.

    He was just a run-of-the-mill nut.

    Now we have some serious one-worlder’s bound and determined to control every morsel of food we put in our mouths and every step we take.

    It must make them feel superior.

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