Recently researchers from the University of Wyoming have found a way to economically produce higher-value nano-graphite. They discovered that pulverized coal powder can be converted into nano-graphite using a household microwave oven.
Nano-graphite is a high demand material. It is used in lubricants, fire extinguishers, and lithium batteries. So considering the finite reserves of graphite…it is a big breakthrough.
How they manage to do it
Researchers turned coal powder into graphite, with a conventional microwave oven, copper foil, and a glass container full of coal powder.
The research team wrote,” this method provides a new route to convert abundant carbon sources to high-value materials with ecological and economical benefits,”
In such experiments, chemical pre-treatment of the coal is usually required. This is because microwaves can reduce the moisture content of coal and remove sulfur and other minerals.
But in this study, the researchers simply ground raw Powder River Basin coal into powder. Then they placed this powder on copper foil and sealed it in glass containers with argon and hydrogen gas. Then it was placed in a microwave oven.
The copper foil was cut into a fork shape. The microwave provided the desired levels of radiation. Then sparks were induced by the microwave radiation. This generated a temperature of over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (approx 982 degrees celsius) within a few seconds.
These temperatures, combined with the copper and hydrogen, provided the required conditions to turn the coal powder into polycrystalline graphite.