MM Blog: Making Electronics From Coal

A look at the work scientists are doing to find a better use for coal.

The domestic and international coal industries were besieged on several fronts in recent years, from an influx of cheap Chinese imports to an increased global emphasis on cleaner energy. But rather than abandon coal as a relic of the Industrial Revolution, one researcher thinks we could turn it into a variety of advanced gadgets. Jeffrey Grossman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that despite its reputation as a crude fuel for burning, coal is actually a highly complex and diverse hydrocarbon.

He and his research team recently turned a thin film of coal into a simple electrical heating device that could help defrost car windows or fit in a biomedical implant. 
Their study also detailed the properties of four different kinds of coal for first time. Some varieties with naturally occurring electrical properties can be acquired and processed much more cheaply than conventional materials. Eventually, Grossman said, coal could be used for everything from batteries to electrical devices to solar panels.


Has an overlooked advanced material been right under our noses all along? Could new research provide a reprieve for the nation's ailing coal industry?

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