|A 3-D printed, carbon-fiber submersible made mostly from coal. (Dept. of Energy photo)|
Probably the biggest potential use for coal right now is in creating carbon fiber, a stiff, strong, and ultra-lightweight material that has been widely used for aircraft and other items for years. The lion's share of most carbon fiber is made from a polymer resin called polyacrylonitrile, with a dash of petroleum pitch. But Mitsubishi has used coal for decades to create carbon fiber, so it's possible to change the formula to be mostly coal.
At the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, researchers used coal and a 3-D printer to create a 30-foot-long submersible to show what carbon fiber made from coal can do. "At the Oak Ridge lab, the 3-D printing techniques for the carbon-fiber sub hull helped reduce production costs by 90 percent and shortened manufacturing time from months to days, according to the Department of Energy. Improved design and building techniques encourage more use of carbon fibers, which could increasingly come from coal," Loh and Martin report.
|Bloomberg graphic; click to enlarge|