Cleaner Coal = Cleaner Environment

Chemical engineers find a way to make coal more environmentally friendly.
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- Within a twenty-four-hour period, coal creates more electricity than wind, gas and water power combined. The downside is that burning coal has been linked to global warming, specifically due to increases in carbon emissions.

"Currently, the great concern is carbon-dioxide emission because that directly relates to the global warming," said Liang-Shih Fan, a chemical engineer at The Ohio State University in Columbus.

Traditionally when coal is burned, it releases a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now, chemical engineers have found a new way to release coal's energy that does not involve burning it.

"This is another technology that could be a game-changer," said Fan.

Inside a hot, air-filled chamber, scientists grind coal into a powder and then mix it with tiny metal beads. This creates a chemical reaction that releases heat energy and carbon dioxide, which stays entirely trapped.

"Basically, what we are trying to do is create combustion, or burning, without actually using flames," said Elena Chung, a chemical engineering student at Ohio State.

In tests, the process is able to produce enough energy to heat water and turn steam-powered motors that create electricity in full-scale power plants.

"That allows us to get a very high-purity stream of [carbon dioxide] from the process, which then can be captured to prevent it from being released into our atmosphere," said Andrew Tong, an Ohio State chemical engineering student.

The researchers' studies showed the process captures 99 percent of the carbon dioxide that is produced. The carbon dioxide can then be recycled or stored.

"If this technology succeeds, we just have a newer way of saving the environment," said Mandar Kathe, a chemical engineering student at Ohio State.

The U.S. produces about 1 billion tons of coal each year, but the biggest market for coal is Asia, where more than 67 percent of the Earth's supply of coal is consumed. 

Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.