There is a brilliant catalytic process that can turn almost anything, from natural gas through to biomass and waste, into liquid fuels that can be used in cars, for instance. The process was invented by Fischer and Tropsch in the 1920s, and there is only one thing wrong with it: fuel made from crude oil has been cheaper than synthetic fuel in most places, most of the time.
Therefore, the history of Fischer-Tropsch visits some unpopular regimes, including Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa, and it perks up each time there is an oil shortage. The fact that it can be used with a very wide range of feedstocks, from stranded gas to solid waste, has now given the method a new lease of life, with green considerations (rather than political isolation) now being the main driving force.
I wrote a feature article about Fischer Tropsch revival for Chemistry & Industry, which is out today:
Catalysis: Liquid fuel revival
Chemistry & Industry No.22, 23 November 2009, pp 21-23
It should soon turn up online here -- not sure whether it will be open access, though.