University of Wyoming researchers using a household appliance to study coal
CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) – It is common knowledge to be careful with what you put in the microwave. University of Wyoming researchers are testing the limits of microwaves by putting charcoal in them.
TeYu Chien, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at UW, had the idea of whether they could turn coal into higher quality materials. “Instead of burning coal to generate electricity, we thought we could make higher quality materials out of it,” Chien said.
Microwaving the charcoal alone didn’t produce any results because the microwave couldn’t get hot enough to burn the charcoal and they decided to add metal to the charcoal in the microwave.
When Chien approached one of his students and told him what he wanted, Chien said: “He asked me again: Are we really sure that we want to do that?” and I said, ‘Yeah, but let’s be careful with that.’ “
The spark from the metal could create a temperature high enough to convert the carbon to graphite. Chien said graphite is more valuable because it can be a conductor that is used to hold very hot materials and as part of lithium-ion batteries, to name a few.
“Coal is in heavy use right now, but we can see the trend wear off,” Chien said. “And so relying heavily on coal like Wyoming is a big problem for the economy.”
Chien said this warrants further investigation and cautioned people not to put anything extraordinary in their microwaves at home.
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