Unlocking a Hydrocarbon Arbitrage from Coal

For almost 100 years, the energy industry has struggled to find a cost-effective way to upgrade coal into oil. Coal has historically been traded at six times less than oil (on an energy-adjusted basis). Closing this value gap is the greatest opportunity in today’s global energy market, estimated at a staggering $20 trillion over the last 15 years.

Arq, a private technology company with offices in Lexington (KY) and London (UK), has risen to that challenge. Their commitment to producing the lowest-cost hydrocarbon products on the planet has now led to a major breakthrough. Using coal waste as their feedstock, they have developed a highly efficient mechanical process to liberate valuable hydrocarbon.

Their product, Arq Fuel™, is a new energy source which is ideal for blending directly into oil products without the need for expensive liquefaction. It transforms the environmental liability of coal waste into a commercial asset for coal producers. Arq also partners with oil distributors to stretch the barrel and increase profitability for oil refineries. End users benefit from lower-cost, higher-energy fuels with reduced emissions. This includes a low-cost solution to aid shipping companies to meet IMO 2020 regulations.

Arq is now moving into commercial development with plans for rapid scaling. They have built a coalition of market-leading energy firms to achieve this, including Peabody Energy and Vitol.

One billion tonnes of untapped energy a year

The world produces one billion tonnes of coal waste every year.

Coal producers face an increasing cost burden for tailings management and its associated social and environmental impacts. Yet coal waste can contain as much as 50 percent hydrocarbon, depending on the type of coal washing method and its efficiency. Based on the current volume of coal mined globally, this is the energy equivalent to throwing away five million barrels of oil per day.

The Arq team hypothesized that coal waste-derived hydrocarbons would be a suitable blending feedstock for traditional fuel oils. Historically, it has not been possible to directly substitute coal for oil, nor to blend it into liquid fuel oils because of the impurities typically bound within coal and the fact that it is solid. This causes the resulting fuel oil to fail international specifications and customer acceptance criteria. To overcome this challenge, the team began by determining the requirements to make a commercially viable product and have engineered the technology to deliver a product that is fit-for-purpose for the market.