While demand for coal may never fully recover, researchers are finding innovative new uses for the vast coal resources that U.S. power plants are no longer burning.
As Bloomberg reports, researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have used 3D printed carbon fiber to build a new submersible for the U.S. Navy, demonstrating the promise of new manufacturing techniques that are faster, cheaper, and more flexible. The Oak Ridge carbon fiber technique also offers motivation to scientists interested in turning America’s coal reserves into advanced materials like carbon fibers that are currently made with petroleum-based polymers.
While it isn’t likely research into alternative uses for coal will bring back all the coal mining jobs that have disappeared in the last decade, there are promising new sources of demand emerging for coal that range from battery electrodes to car parts.
As U.S. electricity usage has flattened and power plants have found cleaner and cheaper fuel options for power generation, U.S. coal producing has plunged 40% to 728 million tons last year. With less demand, the number of coal miners has also fallen 40% to about 50,000 nationwide.
“Coal for power generation is going to continue to decrease.” said Edgar Lara-Curzio, who is researching alternative uses for coal at Oak Ridge, “Here is a chance for us to pay back all these coal communities that have sacrificed for so many years to give us cheap electricity.”
Read the full report at Bloomberg.