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OHIO Engineering researcher and team receive $2 million to create coal composites

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $1.5 million to an Ohio University professor to develop engineered composite decking boards from coal. Industry partners are providing an additional $500,000 in funding.

Jason Trembly, Russ Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (ISEE), part of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, aims to utilize coal in the manufacture of construction composite building materials in collaboration with CONSOL Energy, Engineered Profiles, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Clear Skies Consulting.

“I am very proud of the contributions made by ISEE students and staff in developing the construction composite materials, which made this effort a great success,” said Trembly. “Further, I’m grateful for the support of the DOE and our industry partners and excited to work with them to scale composite manufacturing and assess commercialization opportunities.”

Manufacturing the coal-based composites requires less energy – and results in lower manufacturing costs and emissions – than manufacturing commercial wood plastic composites. Also more affordable to consumers, the materials provide a new, sustainable way of using coal while meeting all applicable ASTM and International Building Code specifications.

CONSOL’s Vice President of Business Development and Technology Dan Connell said the initiative has the potential to open up an alternative, sustainable market for U.S. coal.

“In line with our company’s mission, this project is keenly focused on technological innovation to create an entirely new application for coal – namely, its use as a direct feedstock for the manufacture of building products,” Connell said. “Ohio University’s initial research results show promise with respect to the technical, economic and environmental performance of coal plastic composites, and we look forward to getting involved with helping to advance this opportunity.”

Studies show the global plastic composite market, which is undergoing tremendous growth, is expected to reach $8.76 billion by 2023. If successful, coal composite manufacturing will generate an initial new U.S. coal demand market of over 3 million tons annually, along with new manufacturing jobs.

“If successful, utilizing coal in the manufacture of building materials will yield a new sustainable coal end-use which minimizes greenhouse gas emissions associated in manufacturing such materials, while meeting a rapidly growing consumer market sector,” said Trembly. “This project is an excellent example of OHIO’s innovative cross-cutting research programming and example of the university’s leadership in national sustainability initiatives.”

Learn more about the application of coal plastic composites in the journal article “Coal Filler Based Thermoplastic Composites as Construction Materials: A New Sustainable End-Use Application” co-authored by Trembly and published by the American Chemical Society.

September 20, 2019
Staff reports