May 23, 2019

Report: Coal’s revival is in high tech

Block of coal surrounded by blue

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A new report commissioned by the Energy Department recommends promoting coal for use in other, higher tech ways than electricity.

Why it matters: The report, authored by coal executives, is an implicit acknowledgment that despite President Trump’s so far empty promises to help economically struggling coal plants, coal’s past as America’s dominant power source is no reflection on its future.

The big picture: Coal’s share of the U.S. electricity mix has plummeted from nearly 50% to below 30% in the past decade, fueled by growth in cheap, cleaner-burning natural gas and tougher environmental regulations.

Where it stands: The report was written by the National Coal Council, a federal advisory committee to Energy Secretary Rick Perry made up of executives across the coal industry. It finds that coal can be refined into what can seem like limitless products, but the ones with the most growth potential include:

  • Carbon fiber as a lighter weight and stronger replacement for steel and aluminum in cars, wind turbines and more.
  • Rare earth minerals, which are used in a wide variety of renewable energy technologies.
  • Graphene, a material used in medical devices.

What’s next: The report, which is being sent to Perry on Thursday, recommends the Energy Department create a research and development program to help bring down the costs of these technologies and also to find ways to encourage private investment into this space.

Go deeper: Coal seeks new life in high tech

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