Episode 96 | Coal Commodities | X-MAT
Call me a dinosaur, but I believe the rumors of coal’s demise are grossly exaggerated. Even if the U.S. shuts down its entire coal-fired fleet, other countries will need it to satisfy their power needs.
My guest, CEO Bill Easter of X-MAT, believes the future of coal could reside in next-gen materials. Since 2013, the company has received funding to develop such materials as:
“We have a ‘super-glue sealant,'” he says, “and we can take composite materials, coal, fly ash, mix them together and make lightweight, fireproof, carbon-sequestered, strong systems.”
Simply put, Bill says fly ash from coal is lightweight and a good insulator. Unspent coal, with BTU value, has high strength and electrically conductive applications. X-MAT is currently developing a superior solution for coal in a battery anode, for instance.
These materials, he claims, are stronger and less heat-resistant than plastics and some metals, up to 1,000°C. Plastics and even aluminum, begin to break down around 200°C.
He believes his building material solutions could lead to skyscrapers one day. “What if I told you my structural strength was 5-10X? I could use maybe a third of those materials, or I could make a building that’s twice as high.”
While Bill does not believe coal or fly ash could replace building materials outright, solutions like replacement additives for plastics might be a good start (i.e. replacing calcium carbonate or talc).
“This comes into how you break into business,” he says. “You need to find areas that get a little higher margin at the beginning than compete with materials that have been made for millennia.”
Another goal X-MAT has is to make better use of coal in the communities that mine it. He says coal for power is roughly 2-3 cents per lb., and requires 5 cents to transport. The better solution, he believes, would be to produce products in those regions that were worth $1 per lb., for instance.
From skyscrapers to next-gen battery technologies, coal could have a bright future after all.