Rentech ( RTK), a research firm that develops advanced technologies to convert coal, natural gas and biomass into liquid fuels, might be about to take it to the next level. While Rentech's future has occasionally appeared questionable during its nearly three decades of existence, the company now looks poised to reap rewards in an energy market desperate for alternative energy solutions. Based in Los Angeles, Rentech has invented a proprietary method for making high-value fuels from coal, natural gas and organic matter. The technology mostly relies on the Fischer-Tropsch process, a chemical reaction that creates various forms of liquid hydrocarbons. Coal-to-liquid, or CTL, technology is not new. It was used by Germany in World War II and by South Africa during its apartheid era, when both were essentially cut off from international crude oil supplies. However, both CTL and gas-to-liquid technologies are now winning support from a broad swath of the political spectrum. Many environmentalists say that the Fischer-Tropsch process converts coal into usable energy in a much cleaner fashion than does the refining of crude oil into petroleum products like motor fuel. Political supporters point out the fact that the U.S. is "the Saudi Arabia of coal," and that using coal in an intelligent fashion could significantly reduce America's dependence on shady, unfriendly exporters of traditional fossil fuels.