Filtering the carbon from coal

Despite gains by natural gas, wind and solar, coal remains the top electricity producer in the United States.

Accordingly, interest is strong in developing technology that curbs unwanted effects, such as greenhouse gas emissions, that result from coal’s combustion.

To address the matter, the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a $1.9 million grant to a research team led by the University at Buffalo. The researchers will develop a membrane to remove carbon dioxide, which makes up the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, from gasified coal before its combustion.

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

Lin will work with UB Distinguished Professor Mark T. Swihart, who serves as executive director of the New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.

Also working on the project are Helios-NRG, LLC of Amherst, New York; Membrane Technology and Research, Inc. of Newark, California; and the National Carbon Capture Center in Wilsonville, Alabama.

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. Meanwhile, the carbon dioxide could be geologically sequestered, and used to create chemicals or pumped underground for enhanced oil recovery.