Chasing the American Dream

Two old-fashioned American inventors with a promising alternative to conventional fuels run up against bureaucracy, bad timing and a society unwilling to take risks

It all began, appropriately, in the afterglow of an Optimist club meeting in Lafayette, N.Y., on a Thursday night in the winter of 1972. Over a couple of beers, Doug Keller was telling fellow Optimist Clay Smith about an experiment one of his Syracuse University graduate students was doing. As part of Keller's graduate class in materials science, the student was trying out various chemicals to see if there was some agent that would allow drills to penetrate coal more easily. When he applied ammonia, explained Keller, the raw coal broke down into fine particles, separating the purer hydrocarbons from rock...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!