Reinventing Coal: Researchers Create Novel Materials from a Declining Energy Resource

Read the full story in R&D Magazine.

What do carbon fiber, steel, textiles, shampoo, and laundry detergent have in common? They can all be made directly from coal or have their cost and performance improved with additives derived from coal. Innovative work at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is attempting to expand that list to include engineered cements and plastics, water filtration devices, battery materials, 3D printing materials, and many other consumer products that are in demand in the global marketplace.

Around 2007/2008, coal production topped out at roughly 1.2 billion tons. Since then, coal production has been falling, mostly due to the attractive pricing of natural gas resources for producing electricity. According to the Annual Coal Report issued by the DOE’s Energy Information Agency, maximum production was down to 0.77 billion tons in 2017.

Despite this downward trend in using coal for electricity production, coal may also find applications in markets not previously considered by the industry. In fact, coal can be used as a feedstock for manufacturing high-valued carbon products and materials and NETL is working to develop new technologies for these applications.

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