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Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have proposed a new combination process that could help boost coal efficiency to between 55 and 60 per cent
According to MIT's release, this would mean twice the fuel-to-electricity efficiency of today’s coal plants as conventional coal-burning power plants only convert about 30 per cent of the energy contained.
This will potentially mean halving the amount of carbon dioxide released while producing the same amount of energy.
The concept involves combining two well-known technologies into a single system – coal gasification and fuel cells.
Coal gasification is a way of extracting burnable gaseous fuel from pulverised coal, rather than burning the coal itself. Fuel cells produce electricity from a gaseous fuel by passing it through a battery-like system where the fuel reacts electrochemically with oxygen from the air.
The attraction of combining these two systems is that both processes operate at similarly high temperatures of 800°C or more. Combining them in a single plant will allow the two components to exchange heat with minimal energy losses. In fact, the fuel cell will generate enough heat to sustain the gasification part of the process eliminating the need for a separate heating system, which is usually provided by burning a portion of the coal.
More details are available in their official release.