Is it possible to reach twice the fuel-to-electricity efficiency of today’s conventional coal plants? MIT scientists think so, and the result would be a 50 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for a given amount of power produced.
According to a paper in the Journal of Power Sources, the key is combining coal gasification and fuel cells into a single system. Coal gasification is a way to extract burnable gaseous fuel from pulverized coal instead of burning the coal. Fuel cells produce electricity from a gaseous fuel by passing it through a battery-like system, where the fuel reacts electrochemically with oxygen from the air. Combining them would permit the two components to exchange heat with minimal energy losses.