The New Coke product rolled out in 1985 was a colossal flop, but potential upgrades to the process of making coke — as in steelmaking ingredient — being researched at Purdue University Calumet look promising.
PUC Professor Robert Kramer is leading research efforts in Hammond to provide more use of high-sulfur Indiana coal, blending it with higher-value coals to generate coke and byproducts. That's a hedge against price increases, as China, India and other countries are increasing their demand for the world's supply of coking coal.
Kramer's team is looking for funding partners to build a commercial-scale prototype to capture byproduct gases for further processing. Already, the project has received some nibbles, but it hasn't landed the big fish yet.
It's a fascinating process. By retrofitting coke ovens to recover gases emitted while coal is baked at high temperatures, waste solids and gases can be further processed to produce diesel fuel, low-quality hydrogen and ammonia sulfate for fertilizer. Add a steam-powered turbine, and electricity can be generated as well.
Southwestern Indiana, Illinois and western Kentucky have deep coal reserves that could last for many decades. Figuring out how to put that coal to use without jeopardizing the environment, because of its high sulfur content, or costly equipment to remove that sulfur has been a challenge.
The research being conducted by Kramer's team holds promise as a way of finding another use for this lower-quality coal. It is an example of using the academic brain trust to help solve problems for industry.
In the process of doing this research, watch for environmental consequences as well as financial ones. Figure out how to make it financially feasible and environmentally beneficial.