A $1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant will fund a joint project between Virginia Tech’s Center for Advanced Separation Technologies and West Virginia-based Touchstone Laboratories to use waste coal to produce high-value graphite.

The project will use technology developed by associate professor Aaron Noble and university distinguished professor Roe-Hoan Yoon from mining and minerals engineering in the College of Engineering to harvest mineral deposits from coal slurry ponds.

Such ponds are endemic to coal-producing regions of Appalachia and now can be tapped to recycle minerals into high-value products.

"This is such a pioneering project that really brings together long-standing expertise in mineral processing to source advanced materials with benefits to the commonwealth and the region,” said Kray Luxbacher, Charles T. Holland Professor and department head for mining.

“It is an outstanding example of how mining engineers contribute to society and communities, and I'm pleased that Drs. Noble and Yoon have focused their considerable efforts in this area," Luxbacher said.

The project will “focus on cleaning low-, medium- and high-rank coal and resulting waste coal streams to sufficient levels, making it suitable for feedstock in high-value synthetic graphite processes,” according to DOE.

The project also qualified for $250,000 in non-DOE funding, for a total of nearly $1.3 million.

The CAST initiative was one of seven projects to qualify for funding from DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. The program focuses on developing coal-based filaments or resins for additive manufacturing and advanced research and development of coal-derived graphite. 

“This investment supports the development of new and safe uses for coal wastes, which in turn will spur the creation of good-paying jobs in frontline communities as the nation transitions to 100% clean electricity by 2035,” according to DOE.