Environment: Quest for ‘clean coal’ continues

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Coal mining in the bad old days …

Researchers look for more efficient ways to de-carbonize fossil fuels

Staff Report

FRISCO — Everybody loves to hate coal these days, and for good reason. Pound for pound, it’s responsible for more greenhouses than any other fuel. In 2013, coal generated 39 percent of the electricty produced in the USA, but contributed 77 percent of the electricity sector’s carbon dioxide emissions.

But what if coal could be de-carbonized before it’s burned? A research team led by  University at Buffalo, State University New York, will try to find a new way to do just that by adding palladium nanoparticles to a filtration system that will remove carbon dioxide from gasified coal before it’s burned.

“The idea is to decarbonize coal before burning it,” said Haiqing Lin, PhD, the grant’s principal investigator and an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The grant is one of 16 announced last month by the energy department’s National Energy Testing Laboratory, part of search for “clean coal” technologies.

Gasified coal is the product of treating the fossil fuel at high temperatures with oxygen or steam. The result is a synthetic gas (syngas), containing mainly hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which can be used, among other things, to generate electricity.

Technology exists to remove the majority of carbon dioxide from syngas; however, the process makes it expensive compared to electricity derived from natural gas and other sources. The idea of using a membrane is appealing, Lin said, because it’s passive, and potentially more energy-efficient and less costly compared to other technologies.

The team will develop and test a polymer-based membrane outfitted with palladium-based nanoparticles. The polymers act as a filter, largely preventing the passage of carbon dioxide, while the palladium acts as a bridge that enables hydrogen gas to more easily pass through the membrane.

Theoretically, the hydrogen gas would pass through the membrane and then be burned, which in turn would power turbines. Meantime, the carbon dioxide could be geologically sequestered, used to create chemicals or pumped underground for enhanced oil recovery.

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