News Stories

What if Coal Didn't Pollute

We're desperately searching for new oil and gas (with fracking), but we have plenty of coal. China does too, but they use so much of it that their country is hopelessly polluted. If only we could find a way to burn coal without releasing carbon dioxide.

It may have happened. Researchers have just produced heat from coal for 203 continuous hours, while capturing 99% of the CO2 produced in the reaction.

Biomolecular engineer Liang-Shih Fan pioneered technology called Coal-Direct Chemical Looping (CDCL), which chemically harnesses coal's energy and efficiently contains the carbon dioxide produced before it can be released into the atmosphere.

He says, "In the simplest sense, combustion is a chemical reaction that consumes oxygen and produces heat. Unfortunately, it also produces carbon dioxide, which is difficult to capture and bad for the environment. So we found a way to release the heat without burning. We carefully control the chemical reaction so that the coal never burns--it is consumed chemically, and the carbon dioxide is entirely contained inside the reactor."

Researcher Dawei Wang says, "The commercial-scale CDCL plant could really promote our energy independence. Not only can we use America's natural resources such as Ohio coal, but we can keep our air clean and spur the economy with jobs."

Team member Elena Chung says, "We voluntarily chose to stop the unit. We actually could have run longer, but it was a long and tiring week where we all shared shifts."

Fan agreed that the nine-day experiment was a success. “In the two years we’ve been running the sub-pilot plants, our CDCL and SCL units have achieved a combined 830 operating hours, which clearly demonstrates the reliability and operability of our design,” he says.

The team thinks they've proved their process works, especially since a larger-scale pilot plant is under construction at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Carbon Capture Center.

What's in our future homes--Chemical boilers in the basement, with a car that runs on chemicals in the garage? "Honey, I'm home, throw some chemicals in the stove and let's have supper!"

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