MIT announced that a group of researchers have developed technology that will not only make coal fueled power plants more efficient but will also cut greenhouse gas and other air pollutant emissions in half. The idea is to combine a coal gasification plant with a fuel cell.

Coal gasification takes in pulverized coal and extracts carbon monoxide and hydrogen with heat. In the MIT concept, the gas is fed into a fuel cell where it is combined with oxygen with a catalyst to produce electricity along with water and carbon dioxide.

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The CO2 can be safely sequestered or used to make biofuel. The fuel cell will provide enough heat to generate the coal gasification process, eliminating the need for a separate heating process, usually powered by burning coal.

Conventional coal burning power plants have a fuel to power ratio of about 30 percent. The MIT hybrid concept has an efficiency of upwards to 60 percent.

The next step, having simulated the hybrid concept using computer models, is to develop a prototype plant to see how it performs in the real world. Since the idea involves no new technology, instead combining a couple of old technologies, that step could be undertaken within a few years.

The coal industry has fallen on hard times recently. President Barack Obama vowed to bankrupt coal companies and, in effect, throw miners out of work as part of his clean energy agenda. He has set out to do just that with the EPA developing clean power regulations that would force many coal-fired power plants to close down. The abundance of cheap and relatively clean burning natural gas as the result of the fracking boom has also made coal somewhat uncompetitive.

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If the MIT technology can be made to work in the real world the decline of the coal industry could be reversed, placing the oldest fossil fuel back in the mix of energy sources. Since the Earth contains an abundance of coal and a number of countries, such as China, are still dependent on coal derived energy, such a development would have profound implications for civilization going forward.