Researchers have discovered that coal powder can be transformed into graphite using a conventional microwave oven.
The experiment was conducted in an effort to find alternative uses for coal amid its decline in demand for fuelling electricity generation.
The study was published in the Nano-Structures & Nano-Objects journal and led by from the University of Wyoming Department of Physics and Astronomy associate professor TeYu Chien.
A conventional microwave oven was used for the experiment due to its convenience and it providing the required radiation levels.
The coal powder was contained in a glass vial that also included copper foil to generate sparks when coming into contact with the microwave’s radiation, which reached almost 1000 degrees Celsius.
The heat successfully transformed coal powder from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, United States, into nano-graphite under microwave durations that ranged from 3-45 minutes.
“By cutting the copper foil into a fork shape, the sparks were induced by the microwave radiation, generating an extremely high temperature of more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit (982 degrees Celsius) within a few seconds,” lead author Chris Masi said.
“This is why you shouldn’t place a metal fork inside a microwave oven.”
The researchers proposed that the method could be carried out at a larger scale for higher quality and amount of nano-graphite materials.
Nano-graphite is used as a lubricant and also in lithium-ion batteries, with the study representing an inexpensive coal-coal conversion technology to acquire the the material.
The scientists believe that graphite reserves and environmental concerns over graphite extraction make the microwave oven method an effective alternative for graphite production.