MIT scientists have recently described how various types of coal could be used to create thin films with adjustable electrical properties. Eventually, according to the scientists, coal could be used to fashion solar panels, batteries, or various types of electronic devices.

“When you look at coal as a material, and not just as something to burn, the chemistry is extremely rich,” Jeffrey Grossman, an MIT professor in materials science and engineering, advised.  The chemical, electrical, and optical properties of thin films of four different kinds of coal: anthracite, lignite, and two bituminous types.


Some naturally occurring coal varieties have a range of electrical conductivity that spans seven orders of magnitude, making them suitable for a wide range of electronic uses — and without the extensive purification and refining that silica, a standard raw material in electronics manufacturing, requires.  For that reason, coal might provide a cheaper alternative!

The researchers demonstrated coal’s potential by using it to make a simple electrical heating device, which could be utilized for jobs such as defrosting car windows or airplane wings.