Battelle won a recent United States Department of Energy (DOE) award for a cost-shared research and development project. The project is to be executed in a parallel program with the Ohio Coal Development Office. Battelle will develop a process to convert bituminous coal into polyurethane foam products along with some low-sulfur fuel oil byproduct. The results are expected to confirm the commercial viability of a coal-to-high-value solid foam products process, according to the company.

Coal currently sells for $50 to $60 a ton and polyurethane foams sell for $5,000 to $6,000 per ton. Currently, these expensive foams are made from petroleum products, but coal can be converted by either heat or solvents into a polyol that does the same thing, according to Battelle.

Based on research that dates to 1974, Battelle has a patent that uses a solvent to transform coal into such a polyol. The high-value chemical can then be used to make foams for a variety of different products, including insulation for buildings, which is good for the environment.

“This traps the carbon in the rigid insulation foam,” said Satya Chauhan, a scientist, business developer and principal investigator on the project. “This is an important project to illustrate the importance of employing a wide variety of approaches to use fossil fuels in an environmentally responsible way and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere.”