Skip to main content

EGEB: Scientists turn coal into graphite in a microwave oven

In today’s Electrek Green Energy Brief (EGEB):

  • Scientists have managed to convert raw coal powder into nano-graphite, used in lithium-ion batteries.
  • If the US fully builds out its electricity grid nationwide, then it could slash green energy costs.
  • UnderstandSolar is a free service that links you to top-rated solar installers in your region for personalized solar estimates. Tesla now offers price matching, so it’s important to shop for the best quotes. Click here to learn more and get your quotes. — *ad.

Turning coal into graphite

Scientists have managed to successfully convert raw coal powder into nano-graphite, which is used in lithium-ion batteries, among other things, according to a study, “Converting raw coal powder into polycrystalline nano-graphite by metal-assisted microwave treatment,” published in the journal Nano-Structures & Nano-Objects.

Previous research has shown that microwaves can be used to reduce the moisture content of coal and remove sulphur and other minerals, but in this latest experiment, the only treatment required was to grind raw Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal into powder, reports

The coal powder was put on copper foil and sealed in glass containers with a gas mixture of argon and hydrogen, before being placed in a microwave oven.

Chris Masi, lead author of the paper, said:

By cutting the copper foil into a fork shape, sparks were induced by the microwave radiation, generating an extremely high temperature of more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit within a few seconds.

The study’s abstract states:

Specifically, four major factors are identified for successful conversion: (1) high temperature; (2) reducing environment; (3) catalyst; and (4) microwave radiation.

The high temperatures, copper foil, and gas then transformed the coal powder into polycrystalline graphite.

Battery University explains how graphite works in Li-ion batteries here.

The US national grid update

A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled “The value of inter-regional coordination and transmission in decarbonizing the US electricity system,” published in Joule, asserts that “streamlining the planning and permitting process for new transmission and coordinating decarbonization at the national (rather than state) level could enable a more efficient and rapid transition to a zero-carbon electricity system.”

The four highlights of the study noted were:

US electricity demand can be met with currently available zero-carbon technologies.

Inter-regional coordination and transmission construction significantly reduce cost.

Nuclear, if available, plays a smaller role than renewables at central cost projections.

Nationally planned decarbonization is more efficient than state or regional approaches.

MIT researcher Patrick Brown says it’s cheaper to increase links and transmission network capacity rather than overbuild green energy and storage. Brown says [via GreenTech Media]:

It has a huge impact. The costs are relatively small, and it delivers oversize benefits.

It’s important to consider the contingency options with technology we can deploy at scale now.

GreenTech Media continues:

There are two main reasons for this. First, nationwide transmission allows power-sharing across regions facing widely different weather systems that drive variation in wind and solar generation. This geographic diversity reduces the likelihood that renewables won’t be able to meet demand, thereby decreasing the amount and duration of energy storage required to cover those gaps, he said.

Second, it allows wind and solar development to be concentrated in the sunniest and windiest parts of the country so that more clean energy can be supplied by less installed generation capacity, as well as requiring it to be curtailed less often, Brown said.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

Stay up to date with the latest content by subscribing to Electrek on Google News. You’re reading Electrek— experts who break news about Tesla, electric vehicles, and green energy, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow Electrek on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our YouTube channel for the latest reviews.



Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.