MIT seeks to innovate again. This time, researchers are attempting to make electronics out of coal. The only way this would be possible is if the coal was repurposed from what we use it for today to thin coal films. The researchers say they've developed four thin films of coal: anthracite, lignite, and two bituminous types. They have used the repurposed coal to make electrical heating devices that the researchers say can defrost "car windows or airplane wings". They say it could even be a biomedical implant. What is this world coming to?

The researchers in question are Jeffrey Grossman, Brent Keller, and Nicola Ferralis. They published their repurposing of coal findings in the NanoLetters journal under the title, Rethinking Coal: Thin Films of Solution-Processed Natural Carbon Nanoparticles for Electronic Devices

Grossman works in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) at Morton and Clair Goulder and Family. He says: "When you look at coal as a material, and not just as something to burn, the chemistry is extremely rich." This would mean that coal is far more than just a fuel source for the world. 

The electronic properties of coal have never really factored into engineering until now. The researchers are showing that coal does not need to be taken down to the atomic level to be applicable to the chemical world of engineering. In MIT's labs, all they did was grind the coal down and alter the temperatures until they got the results they desired. The researchers explained the process of using the coal films in the abstract to their journal:

Here we show a flexible solution-based method of preparing thin films with tunable electrical properties from suspension of ball-milled coals following certifugation. The as-prepared films retain the rich carbon chemistry of the starting coals with conductivities ranging over orders of magnitude, and thermal treatment of the resulting films further tunes the electrical conductivity in excess of 7 orders of magnitude. 

The researchers say that the hopping energies that they observed were close to that of amorphous carbon materials and "reduced graphene oxide." This means that these coal films could have many applications. The researchers think the coal films could assist solar panels, batteries, and other electronic devices. 

"This is a significant step - probably the first - to utilize nanocarbon materials, directly from unrefined coal, with controllable electronic properties and excellent stability and scalability," said Shenqiang Ren, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Temple University, who was not part of the team but was very impressed by their efforts.