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Researchers convert coal into 'clean' gas

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A new spin on an old technology could lower your power bill and save a struggling industry.

Researchers at Southern Illinois University believe they’ve discovered a new way to convert coal into methane. They say a coal to methane conversion could help save the environment by lowering emissions, and create jobs locally.

No matter where Georgia de la Garza looks around southern Illinois, she says she can see the scars of the coal industry.

"I know there's going to be coal mining, but I wish we would look start looking at alternative energy," said de la Garza.

Stricter environmental regulations seeking to clean up emissions from coal fired power plants have cost jobs across the industry. 

SIU researchers Dr. Satya Harpalani and Dr. Yanna Liang believe they have found the key to cleaning up coal by converting it to methane.

"I'm quite confident that if this moves forward, it will revolutionize the industry," said Harpalani.

By using microbes to breakdown coal and convert it into gas, Liang says, it creates methane, which she says is a cleaner fuel.

"We're taking abundant resource and generating a clean fuel,” said Liang.  “We're not generating any environmental hazard or having any impact to the environment, so I think this is a beneficial use of abundant resource."

"I don't believe there's such a thing as clean coal, but at the same time coal isn't going to leave Illinois," said de la Garza.

"It will definitely translate to jobs, but they will be slightly different than what coal mines are used to nowadays,” said Harpalani. “There will have to be a transition."

While the research team is already producing methane from coal in a lab, field research trials must be performed before the process is ready for the commercial market.

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