Is the future of coal in super material graphene?
Illustration: Chris Gash
Coal is mostly known as a fuel to generate power, but scientists are actively exploring its lesser-known potential. Now the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and Leidos have discovered a new way to transform coal into graphene, a super material so promising it earned scientists the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Why you should know: Thinner than paper and one hundred times stronger than steel, graphene may be one of the most useful materials ever discovered:
- It conducts electricity 1.6 times more effectively than copper, which means it can be used to create faster microprocessors.
- Its huge surface area relative to its weight makes it useful in high-capacity batteries.
- Its favorable strength-to-weight ratio makes it ideal for bullet-proof vests and aerospace equipment.
The big challenge: Despite these possibilities, graphene hasn't been widely used to develop products because large amounts are expensive to manufacture.
The solution: The new coal-to-graphene (C2G) manufacturing process, which last year earned an R&D 100 Award, transforms various grades of coal into carbon nanosheets one layer thick and up to one micron (one one-thousandth of a millimeter) in diameter. C2G is fueled by inexpensive molten salts, which should make carbon nano-materials significantly cheaper to manufacture in the coming years.
From the Source: “Burning coal creates a lot of carbon dioxide and releases greenhouse gas, which isn't feasible for the industry's future," said Fan Shi, a Leidos research scientist and co-inventor of the C2G technology. “C2G will not only advance graphene production, but also help give coal a greener future.”
Looking ahead: Shi and the project team are working with coal technology experts on commercial applications for C2G graphene. One of their first projects will create new biosensors to identify the presence of disease.
Please contact the Leidos media relations team for more.