Clean Coal

At Purdue's Energy Center's Coal Transformation Laboratory, the aim will be to make better use of plentiful Indiana coal, which accounts for 3.5 percent of U.S. coal production.

Coal, of course, is abundant, energy–dense—and a key culprit in environmental degradation around the world, not to mention in the Earth's atmosphere. As the world runs out of oil, we'll be forced to rely even more heavily on coal than we do now. It already supplies more than half the electricity consumed by Americans.

But new technologies hold promise for cleaning up this nonrenewable resource and buying us time to develop reliable renewable energy sources.

How Purdue will ‘Get the Dirt Out’

"The Coal Transformation Laboratory will develop technology to convert coal into combustible gases and liquids that can be burned away cleanly while meeting the demand for electric power, heating, and transportation," says Tom Sparrow, professor of industrial engineering and the director of Purdue's Center for Coal Technology Research.

Indiana, which annually mines more than 35 million tons of coal, is one of several Midwestern states involved in the world's leading coal–chemical enterprise: the Tennessee/Eastman regional coal chemical complex in eastern Tennessee, says Ron Rardin, a researcher at the coal center and a professor of industrial engineering.

"This complex is an important resource to draw upon as we develop aspects of coal transformation technology."

Purdue Coal Research: Federally Backed and Integrated

The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 supports a collaboration among Purdue's Energy Center, the Southern Illinois University Coal Research Center, and the University of Kentucky Applied Energy Center to develop transportation fuels from the Illinois Coal Basin, including Fischer–Tropsch fuels that powered Germany's Panzers during World War II.

The Illinois Coal Basin deposits, which extend into Indiana, hold more than 130 billion tons, or 25 percent, of the total coal reserves in the country, enough to meet current U.S. coal demands for more than 100 years.

—Lisa Hunt Tally with Cynthia Sequin