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NETL Coal-to-Graphene Project Wins Prestigious R&D 100 Award



October 2, 2020 - A ground-breaking NETL project that converts feedstocks of domestic coal into graphene, a material that can be used to build stronger roads and bridges and manufacture various high-tech products, received a prestigious R&D 100 award for being among the 100 most technologically significant innovations introduced into the marketplace in the last year.

C2G: NETL’s Low-Cost Coal-to-Graphene Manufacturing Process received the award in the Mechanical/Materials category. Project team members were Christopher Matranga, principal investigator, Fan Shi, senior materials scientist, McMahan Gray, physical scientist, and Tuo Ji, research scientist.

Graphene is a carbon material that’s stronger than steel and possesses higher electrical and thermal conductivity than copper. Despite these qualities, graphene has not been widely used in consumer products because of challenges in producing large volumes of high-quality material.

The NETL team developed a process that converts lignite, bituminous and anthracite ranks of coal into graphene. Their process addresses cost challenges by using domestic coal feedstocks which are 15-30 times cheaper than the graphite currently used. The technology also uses inexpensive processing methods with product yields that are six to 10 times higher than current approaches.

The Lab is investigating commercial applications for this material. For example, NETL is partnering with Ramaco Carbon to utilize graphene for developing new biosensing materials for detecting disease. In addition, NETL is collaborating with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to develop graphene materials for next-generation computer memory devices and microelectronics.

In this project with UIUC, the NETL team processed domestic coal to create graphene quantum dots — small fluorescent nanoparticles with sheet-like structures — that were sent to UIUC, where they were used to fabricate an advanced type of computer memory chip called a memristor. Memristors made with the NETL coal-based quantum dots outperformed those made with conventional materials due to their unique carbon structure, low cost, low power consumption, low variability between devices and power cycles, and good device stability.

Through its intramural research program, NETL is evaluating the use of graphene as an additive for improving the mechanical strength and corrosion resistance of cement and concrete composites for construction and drilling applications.

Another NETL project, the IDAES PSE Computational Platform, was named an R&D 100 Awards finalist in the Software/Services category. Winners in that category will be announced Thursday, Oct. 1.

The R&D 100 Awards competition received entries from 19 countries and regions for the 2020 competition. A list of the 2020 winners is available at the R&D World website.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide reliable and affordable solutions to America’s energy challenges. NETL’s work supports DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic and energy security of the United States.