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UW Researchers Turn Coal Powder into Graphite in Microwave Oven

Using copper foil, glass containers and a conventional household microwave oven, University of Wyoming researchers have demonstrated that pulverized coal powder can be converted into higher-value nano-graphite.

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The discovery is another step forward in the effort to find alternative uses for Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal, at a time when demand for coal to generate electricity is declining due to concerns about climate change.

In a paper published in the journal Nano-Structures & Nano-Objects, the UW researchers report that they created an environment in a microwave oven to successfully convert raw coal powder into nano-graphite, which is used as a lubricant and in items ranging from fire extinguishers to lithium ion batteries. This “one-step method with metal-assisted microwave treatment” is a new approach that could represent a simple and relatively inexpensive coal-conversion technology.

In a microwave oven, sparks are generated inside a glass vial containing coal powder and copper foil as part of an experiment by University of Wyoming researchers. They successfully converted the coal powder to nano-graphite, demonstrating a novel and inexpensive coal-conversion technology.

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