The primary use of coal is for combustion processes that drive electricity generation, steel production and cement manufacturing. These processes represent low value opportunities for U.S. coal and result in large emissions of CO2. TerraPower is demonstrating technology that can convert - rather than burn - this abundant U.S. resource into high value products suitable for transportation fuels, chemical industry feedstock and even advanced materials like carbon fiber.
TerraPower developed a test loop for its unique coal conversion technology at its Bellevue, WA laboratory. Hot, pressurized CO2 is used to break down coal molecules in an efficient manner. The CO2 then carries these products away from the process for collection while the CO2 is recovered for continual re-use. Usable liquid products (similar in nature to crude oil) are generated along with solid carbon (char). The char is valuable as a cleaner, more energy dense product than the starting coal.
TerraPower’s test loop creates liquids to serve as a crude oil surrogate suitable for conventional refinery and chemical industry feedstock. This oil from coal is, however, unique in that it carries heavier molecules suitable for creating advanced carbon materials. The process developed at TerraPower naturally separates these heavy molecules from the coal oils. This creates a higher value oil than generated by previous coal processing technologies while also creating a separate stream of heavier material suitable for solid carbon products such as low-cost carbon fiber.