The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a $1.5 million grant to the Southern Research Institute to test means of producing liquid fuels from coal and biomass mixtures in an economically feasible way.

The grant was announced Monday.

The Institute says its research could lead to a new alternative process that would be economically competitive with petroleum-based processes.

Researches say the process cuts out some upgrades so as the process known as Fischer-Tropsch and processes in refining to make coal-to-liquid (or CTL) and boal-biomass-to-liquid (or CBTL) more affordable.

“We hope the project will advance CTL and CBTL processes by demonstrating a cost-effective, novel FT catalyst that selectively converts syngas derived from the gasification of coal and coal-biomass mixtures predominantly to gasoline and diesel range hydrocarbons, thereby eliminating expensive upgrading operations,” said Dr. Santosh K. Gangwal, Southern Research Institute’s principal investigator. “We will evaluate the impact of adding moderate amounts of biomass to coal on CBTL products and process economics, and compare the carbon footprint of CBTL processes with petroleum-based fuel production processes.”

An existing coal gasifier plant in Alabama will be used for the project.

Private-sector partners include Southern Company Services and Nexant.