[News and Views]


    ON May 20, Lord Rutherford, as chairman of the Advisory Council of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, delivered an able and informative speech in the House of Lords on the problem and prospects of obtaining liquid fuel from coal. We import, he said, liquid fuel of various kinds to the value of £40,000,000 annually, and failure of this supply would have disastrous consequences to national life. So far as can be foreseen, coal is the only possible source of oil in Great Britain. Two methods are known for obtaining oil from coal, carbonisation at low or high temperatures, and hydrogenation. Lord Rutherford discussed the technical problems associated with low-temperature carbonisation and the steps taken by the Fuel Research Board to encourage the development of new retorting systems and to modify and improve low temperature tars, so as to enable them to replace natural products. Hydrogenation of tars offers promise of giving good yields of serviceable oils for various purposes, and large-scale tests are to be made. Much greater yields of oil per ton of coal can be obtained by direct hydrogenation of the coal, which has been shown to be technically possible. The development of carbonisation and hydrogenation offer great advantages, but tho main problems are economic, for natural oils are available to-day in abundance and at very low prices. Progress in carbonisation depends on how far the nation is prepared to pay for a purer atmosphere by using cokes instead of coal. The hydrogenation process is limited by the degree of willingness of the nation to pay for independence in this matter of liquid fuels. Lord Rutherford ended by saying that a full scientific understanding of this problem is more essential to Great Britain than to any other country.

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    [News and Views]. Nature 127, 826–832 (1931). https://doi.org/10.1038/127826b0

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