Technology is being utilized to help reduce Pennsylvania's energy woes, and also clean up the state's natural environment.
Among the most important programs being developed in northeastern Pennsylvania will allow liquid fuels to be produced from coal in Schuylkill County by WMPI, PTY, LLC.
The basic technology, which has been in existence since the 1920's, involves chemical processes that allow the gasification of the active ingredients in coal.
Hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas are removed, creating a rich fuel stock that can be made into different fuels.
These include over-the-road diesel fuel, which due to recent price spikes has been a factor in a worrisome national inflation rate.
Despite some setbacks, WMPI still plans to construct a high-technology coal-to-oil plant on its 75-acre site in Schuylkill County.
Once up and running, the facility will escalate production to 5.000 barrels per day of oil from nearby waste coal.
There is no shortage of raw material for the process, because the waste coal can be consistently utilized as the plant operates.
According to statistics provided by the state government in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has 8,529 acres of unused mine refuse piles with 258 million tons of this waste coal.
"Diesel fuel with a cost of less than $1 per gallon is possible with this technology", says John W. Rich, president of WMPI.
"The Department of Energy has embraced the technology, and we are in the advanced project development stage, with financing being arranged.
When up and running, we will be able to create zero sulfur diesel fuel, gasoline, hydrogen, and other fuels."
Rich emphasizes that the company's goal is to become an energy supplier, and not a distributor that will compete with existing sellers in the marketplace.
Towards that end, the company has received millions of dollars in government grants.
Nationally syndicated columnist Thomas Friedman is among the international policy experts that have been consistently warning how American reliance on Mideast oil is delivering revenues into the hands of some of world's most dangerous governments.
He also has stated that the United States, through Mideast oil purchases, is actually funding both sides of the current war on terrorism.
Yet, as the WMPI project has evolved, even with the current national fuel price crisis, Rich has run into a frustrating stumbling block.
"We're still plugging away to close the finances, and hoping to break ground this year," says Rich.
"A half-dozen financial negotiations are dragging on, with some contingent on others.
The good news is that all of the right people are involved and still committed."
Rich says that there are enough coal deposits in the U.S. alone to last for hundreds of years.
This means coal to oil technology has the potential to greatly lower or end America's dependence on foreign oil imports.
Harold Schobert, Ph.D., professor of fuel science and director of Penn State University's Energy Institute, has announced that jet fuel from coal comparable to standard military-grade fuel has been developed and successfully tested in a jet helicopter.
The new formulation is cleaner than traditional fuels, with less chemicals in the mix and is almost sulfur free.
"This development became possible because of a long research project at Penn State coming to fruition," says Schobert.
"The news about the successful testing just happened to break when trouble really began surfacing with the country's oil prices.
It certainly wasn't planned to break just now."
According to Schobert, because the fuel has been made 50 percent from coal, it could reduce the military's use of imported petroleum for this specific purpose by half.
Testing has also shown that the mix can be advanced to at least 75 percent coal, and Penn State would like to produce 4,500 gallons, equivalent to about 100 barrels of the fuel, for future military testing.
Schobert comments that Penn State tracks incoming calls about alternate fuel programs, and the number of these calls has climbed substantially since oil prices soared.
The use of coal is of particular focus to these callers.
The nation of Brazil is an international model for oil independence, according to Schobert.
During the 1970's, when the price of sugar cane was escalating and oil prices were depressed, that country set up a massive alcohol production program.
"Today, alcohol is the No. 1 vehicle fuel in use around that country, and they're looking very smart," says Schobert.
Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty recently presented a $100,000 grant to River Hill Power LLC, a 290-megawatt cogeneration plant planned to be built in Karthaus Township, Clearfield County.
"Where waste coal once was seen only as a liability, new perspectives are taking hold," comments McGinty.
"In Pennsylvania, we are taking an approach that embraces these challenges not as occasions to impair our environment, but rather to repair it, and to help drive our economy at the same time."
Two million tons per year of waste coal will be used to generate more than 2 million megawatts of low-cost electricity annually at the plant.
The project will also help to reclaim mine land now covered by waste coal.
Secretary McGinty also told the Associated Press that a "very substantial" company is close to announcing a large ethanol plant will be build in the state, where ethanol will be produced from corn.
The facility will later develop the technology to make cellulosic ethanol, a far more energy efficient fuel, from crop waste or dead forest timber.
It also will produce a soybean based fuel additive called biodiesel.
Throughout Pennsylvania, wind power is now creating enough energy to power 70,000 homes.
This includes the extensive facility on the Waymart mountains operated by F.P.L. Energy of Juno, Fla.
Steve Stengel, spokesperson for F.P.L., explains that the Waymart facility features 43 huge turbines that can generate more than 64 megawatts of electricity.
This can power more than 19,000 homes.
Throughout Pennsylvania, F.P.L. operates five different wind facilities with a total of 87 whirling turbines.
Combined, they can generate 130 megawatts of electricity, serving the electric needs of 40,000 homes.
A total of $84 million is also being invested into Pennsylvania manufacturing facilities and a North American head quarters by Gamesa.
The firm is the second largest wind energy company in the world, and states that the expansion will create as many as 1,000 jobs over five years.
Initiatives to improve the quality of life in Pennsylvania via environmental investment are taking place.
Governor Ed Rendell has announced that Pennsylvania will invest $700,000 in waste-tire-reuse demonstration projects that could rid the state of 500,000 discarded tires.
As this occurs, the project will eliminate breeding grounds for mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile virus, reduce sediment flowing to streams and rehabilitate rural roads.
Penn State University's Center for Dirty and Gravel Road Studies has also announced that it will use baled waste tires as a fill material to rebuild dirt and gravel roads that have become severely entrenched.
Whole tires will be compacted into cubes that weigh approximately one ton, and these will be used to create the bales.