NETL backs tech for nanomaterial from coal, waste

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in the U.S. has confirmed it is supporting the advancement of a technology that can turn coal and coal wastes into nanomaterial that is 2,000 times stronger than steel.

The development is from international research company Universal Matter, the research facilities of which are in Houston, Texas, and the backing has come from the NETL’s Carbon Ore Processing program through a cooperative agreement.

Specifically, the technology transforms carbon-rich materials into high-quality graphene for use in a wide range of products. The developer has already demonstrated its breakthrough technology, Flash Joule Heating (FJH), to transform carbonaceous material feedstocks.

“According to Universal Matter, graphene is a versatile carbon-based nanomaterial that is 200 times stronger than steel and can stretch up to 25% of its original length” the NETL noted, pointing out that graphene consists of tightly bonded carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice and is more electrically conductive than copper, possesses extremely high thermal conductivity, and is stronger (tensile strength) than any known material.

Joe Stoffa, NETL technology manager for the Carbon Ore Processing Program, said that producing high-quality graphene on a large scale at a low cost could enable several disruptive technologies.

“Universal Matter’s FJH process can convert diverse carbon sources into graphene with tunable characteristics for an almost unlimited number of applications,” Stoffa added.

“Universal Matter’s scale-up of FJH graphene production is key because it means the nation’s carbon ore resources can have a significant additional application beyond their traditional use in power generation and metallurgy.”

Graphenea, a U.S./Spain graphene technology firm, has reported that one of the biggest challenges of the graphene industry will be to reach adequate volume production in the next two to five years.

“The focus will have to be on material consistency and production cost,” the firm said.

Additionally, according to the Graphene Council, aerospace engineers are looking at graphene and other advanced materials as key enabling technologies for the next generation of aircraft and space vehicles. In the automotive industry, graphene could play a major role in the future of transportation due to its broad range of performance attributes. For example, graphene can improve lithium-ion battery charging speed and capacity, can be added to polymers to decrease automobile weight, and can be incorporated into carbon-metal composites to make smaller and less expensive electric motors and inverters.

Additional applications for graphene include composites, asphalt, anti-corrosion coatings, concrete and cement, electronics, lubricants, plastics, polymers, rubber and synthetics, semiconductors, sensors, structural materials, textiles, thermal management and water filtration.