The Energy of Innovation at The University of Akron

Using coal in new ways to produce clean and cost-effective energy 

Clean power

THE NEXT TIME you see smokestacks in an industrial area, consider how harmless those billowing clouds would be if they released nothing but clean air. It’s not a problem that is easily solved, but it’s not a pipe dream to Dr. Stephen Chuang.

Chuang, a professor of polymer science and director of the FirstEnergy Advanced Energy Research Center at The University Akron, has invented a patented, prototype fuel cell that runs on solid coal – a process that is cleaner and up to twice as efficient as current coal-burning processes. Fuel cells hold a lot of promise in solving the increasingly urgent problem of how to capture carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from coal-fired and other fossil fuel plants that generate electricity, as well as other industries, he says.

“Coal is cost-effective and readily available, especially here in the United States,” says Chuang. “And when coal is consumed in a fuel cell, it emits a highly concentrated of carbon dioxide that’s easy to capture.”

So where do those CO₂ emissions go once they’re captured? Chuang explains that his research can make sure the emissions will go to a place where they’ll never be breathed in again.

Through a technology called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), Chuang works to contain that carbon dioxide before it reaches the air. Perhaps one of the most promising of clean coal technologies, CCS catches and sequesters CO₂ emissions from stationary sources like power plants and compresses it into a dense liquid-like state, injecting and permanently storing it underground. A relatively new process, Chuang explains that CCS and other clean coal technologies will keep changing as research continues.

“Clean coal technology will continue to evolve as we develop and deploy new technologies to respond to environmental challenges,” Chuang says.

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