WASHINGTON DC, Sept. 14, 2000 — A lot more can be done with coal than just burning it to generate electricity and steam. Its carbon makeup can be chemically transformed into a variety of value-added solid products – for example, the electrodes used in the electrolytic process that produces aluminum.

Now, in an program to expand the uses of coal, the Department of Energy will provide federal funding to advance a process developed at West Virginia University (WVU) that extracts the carbon from coal by using a powerful organic solvent. The product is an ash-free, high-quality carbon material.

DOE will provide $289,000 for the one-year project, with WVU contributing $120,610.

WVU’s process mixes a solvent, such as N-methylpyrrolidone, with either raw, finely ground coal or a hydrogenated coal product. The mixture is heated to dissolve a fraction of the feed coal. When the residual solids are removed and the solvent is evaporated for re-use, the product is similar to coal tars and pitches produced by conventional coking processes. This is important, because decreased production of coke in the U.S. has reduced the supply of tars and pitches. This process will make their production independent of coke production. The pitch itself is made into electrodes used to produce aluminum.

The process will also allow tailoring of the pitch product properties by blending the extract from raw coal with extract from hydrogenated coal. This permits new freedoms in producing pitch for specific applications, such as advanced carbon materials in the form of foams and other structural materials. Tailored tar and pitch materials made with this process will also allow entry into other carbon products markets now dominated by petroleum-based feedstocks.

The process may stand alone or be included as part of a facility that uses a coal gasifier, such as future power plant. A slipstream of the coal would be extracted, valuable products retained, and the residual material would go to the gasifier.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), which implements and oversees the department’s fossil-fuel programs, will manage the project, which was selected under the second round of a Fossil Energy-wide solicitation that drew 222 proposals in 15 areas of interest.