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Whatever Happened to Nazi Synthetic Fuel Technology?

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Guest Scáthach

Before World War 2, Germany had little natural oil reserves to call upon to run its massive war machine. The solution was to come up with the technology to run the equipment needed for war.


The Nazi's had to come up with a way to create synthetic fuels if they were to be able to engage their enemies in battle. When it comes to war, humans can often exceed perceived technological limitations and the Germans did.


It wouldn't be much of a stretch to assume Germany's brilliant scientists came up with the process alone. But, in reality the Germans had a little help from Standard Oil.


"....The Standard Oil group of companies, in which the Rockefeller family owned a one-quarter (and controlling) interest,1 was of critical assistance in helping Nazi Germany prepare for World War II. This assistance in military preparation came about because Germany's relatively insignificant supplies of crude petroleum were quite insufficient for modern mechanized warfare; in 1934 for instance about 85 percent of German finished petroleum products were imported. The solution adopted by Nazi Germany was to manufacture synthetic gasoline from its plentiful domestic coal supplies. It was the hydrogenation process of producing synthetic gasoline and iso-octane properties in gasoline that enabled Germany to go to war in 1940 and this hydrogenation process was developed and financed by the Standard Oil laboratories in the United States in partnership with I.G. Farben..... Source: Standard Oil Fuels World War 2


Although Americans were soon to be fighting and dying against the evils of Nazism, Multinational American corporations, like Standard oil, were ready to make a buck helping the Nazis no matter what the ethical considerations were.

But the history of Corporate America helping the Nazi war machine is well documented. What is not as well known is that the technology that created Nazi synthetic gas and oil is still around today and in use.

In South Africa, there is a company called Sosol that utilizes the same technology the Nazi's used to create synthetic oil.

"...In 1948, the newly elected National Party regime formally instituted apartheid. Two years later, it created Sasol. Aside from mining and manufacturing chemicals, Sasol set out to develop a domestic gasoline-production capability, a goal that became more urgent when many oil-producing nations refused to sell oil to the apartheid regime. In the late 1970s, using government loans, the firm built a huge complex at Secunda, where it has produced some 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline that is functionally no different than the gas produced from Texas crude.


Since the end of apartheid, Sasol has prospered, finding new markets and customers outside its borders. But with the spike in oil prices of the last few years, it has really caught fire. (Note this five-year chart of Sasol, whose shares were listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2003, against ExxonMobil.) And that has much to do with the company's technological promise....." Source: Slate


Evidently, the South African company finds it economically feasible to produce this synthetic gas.


So it is an interesting factoid that synthetic fuels utilizing Nazi technology from the 1930s is still being used.


But the larger point is that if there was 1930s technology that was efficient and sufficient enough to fuel the massive German war machine with synthetic gas and oil, we are likely capable of utilizing our advanced technology to move past our dependence on oil (biotic or abiotic).




During World War II, Germany used synthetic oil manufacturing (German: Kohleverflüssigung) to produce substitute (Ersatz) oil products by using the Bergius process (from coal), the Fischer–Tropsch process (water gas), and other methods (Zeitz used the TTH and MTH processes).[17][18]


The Bergius process plants were Nazi Germany's primary source of high-grade aviation gasoline, synthetic oil, synthetic rubber, synthetic methanol, synthetic ammonia, and nitric acid.


Synthetic fuel grades included "T.L. [jet] fuel ", "first quality aviation gasoline", "aviation base gasoline", and "gasoline - middle oil";[18] and "producer gas" and diesel were synthesized for fuel as well (e.g., converted armored tanks used producer gas).[17]:4,s2 By early 1944, German synthetic fuel production had reached more than 124,000 barrels per day (19,700 m3/d) from 25 plants,[21][verification needed] including 10 in the Ruhr Area.[22]:239 In 1937, the four central Germany lignite coal plants at Böhlen, Leuna, Magdeburg/Rothensee, and Zeitz, along with the Ruhr Area bituminous coal plant at Scholven/Buer, had produced 4.8 million barrels (760×103 m3) of fuel.




Fischer tropsch diesel and jet fuels deliver dramatic across-the-board reductions in all major criteria pollutants such as SOx, NOx, Particulate Matter, and Hydrocarbon emissions.[54] These fuels, because of their high level of purity and lack of contaminants, further enable the use of advanced emissions control equipment that has been shown to virtually eliminate HC, CO, and PM emissions from diesel vehicles.[55]


The cleanliness of these FT synthetic fuels is further demonstrated by the fact that they are sufficiently non-toxic and environmentally benign as to be considered biodegradable. This owes primarily to the near-absence of sulfur and extremely low level of aromatics present in the fuel.[57]





All of this is rather new to me. I never knew that synthetic fuels had been successfully produced and used on such a scale before.


Since synthetic fuels can be produced en-masse, and have been shown to be drastically better for the environment than traditional fuels, why are they not more widely used today? I imagine that it isn't very efficient in terms of cost and required materials, but surely even better methods for creating synthetic fuels have been developed in the last half-century? The first article I linked goes on to hypothesize that synthetic fuel technology is being suppressed by large companies to create artificial scarcity, but surely there is more to it than that.

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