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.

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