Even New-Age President Obama Backing Age-Old Coal Industry

One industry that’s received a boost by the advent of the “clean tech” movement is, perhaps surprisingly, a grand old American icon–the coal industry. As many have pointed out, the United States is to coal what Saudi Arabia is to oil–we have boatloads of the stuff buried throughout the American heartland. Coal backers, who include President Obama, are heralding new techniques that highlight “clean coal technology.”

One decades-old “clean coal” method in favor again converts coal to natural gas, or gasification. Privately-held Cambridge, MA-based GreatPoint Energy (http://www.greatpointenergy.com) calls its gasification technology hydromethanization and has a remedy for one of the major obstacles facing gasification–keeping the carbon dioxide produced in the process out of the atmosphere. GreatPoint plans to bury it, as outlined by CNET News (http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10216860-54.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20).

There are literally dozens of smallcaps involved in coal technology in one form or another. Five-year-old Henderson, NV-based Energy Quest Inc. (OTCBB: EQST.OB, http://syngasinternational.com), formerly Syngas International Corp., designs, builds and operates various gasification technologies for reforming coal and other “carbonaceous feed stocks.” One rub on Energy Quest, based on recent days anyway, is that it very, very rarely trades. You can buy a share for 20 cents. Denver-based Evergreen Energy Inc. (NYSEArca: EEE, http://evergreenenergy.com) doesn’t have that trading issue–it averages 1.4 million trades a day. The stock now sits at $1.02, off its high last June of $2.50. Formerly called KFx, Inc., Evergreen is a more traditional coal refining and production company but its K-Fuel process is designed to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from coal.

Los Angeles-based Rentech Inc. (Amex: RTK, http://www.rentechinc.com) provides technologies that use domestic resources to produce ultra-clean fuels. It has created a process, the Rentech Process, a derivative of the Fischer-Tropsch gasification process, that converts synthesis gas derived from coal and other products into liquid hydrocarbon products including clean diesel fuel, jet fuel and other fuel products. The Rentech Process is the basis of a joint development agreement with Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU, http://www.peabodyenergy.com), which calls itself the world’s largest private-sector coal company, to convert coal into ultra-clean transportation fuels. Rentech trades actively, about 560,000 shares daily, and is priced at 64 cents a share, off its 52-week high of $2.75 it reached last summer.

One other smallcap is a basic coal play, if you like coal companies mining in China. Seattle-based L&L International Holdings Inc. (OTCBB:LLFH.OB, http://www.lnlinternational.com) primarily operates a 1.5-square-kilometer mining operation in the Yunnan Province but it holds interests in an estimated 60 million tons of reserves. Now trading at 99 cents, it was as high as $2.45 earlier this year.

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