Global Technology - March 2013

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Next, let's focus on this month's most important advances in technology. We'll begin with a breakthrough in energy research.

A potentially revolutionary form of clean-coal technology under development at Ohio State University recently achieved a significant milestone. For 203 continuous hours, the technology, called Coal-Direct Chemical Looping, or CDCL, produced heat from coal while capturing over 99 percent of the carbon dioxide produced in the reaction.

CDCL is a process for releasing heat from coal without burning it. The Ohio State researchers carefully control the chemical reaction so that the coal never burns. It is consumed chemically and the carbon dioxide is entirely contained inside the reactor.

A commercial-scale CDCL plant would represent a huge leap forward in terms of energy independence for the United States. Not only would it use one of America's most abundant and inexpensive natural resources, but it would keep the air clean.

The key to the technology is the use of tiny "metal beads" to carry oxygen to the fuel in order to spur the chemical reaction. For CDCL, the fuel is coal that's been ground into a powder, and the metal beads are made of iron oxide composites. The coal particles are about 100 micrometers across, and the iron beads are about 1.5 millimeters across.

At the place where the materials react with each other, the coal and iron oxide are heated to high temperatures. Carbon from the coal binds with the oxygen from the iron oxide and creates carbon dioxide, which rises into a chamber where it is captured. Hot iron beads and coal ash are left behind. The tiny coal ash particles are removed from the system as waste, while the larger iron beads first go through a heat exchanger to produce steam for electricity. Then the iron beads are exposed to air inside the reactor, so that they become re-oxidized.

This means that the beads can be re-used almost indefinitely, to carry the oxygen to the ground coal, and to carry the heat away to make steam. Meanwhile, the carbon dioxide is separated to be recycled or sequestered for storage.

Because it captures over 99 percent of the carbon dioxide, CDCL already exceeds the goals that the DOE has set for developing clean energy...

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