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Ohio University Converting Coal Waste to Usable Building Materials



By Dennis Bivianao

September 7, 2022 - Ohio University has found a way to convert coal waste to useable building materials, such as decking, PVC pipe and dry wall components.

“The materials possess better resistance to oxidation, so longer field life, better fire properties,” said Dr. Jason Trembly about the vast coal waste in Appalachia that can be converted into renewable materials. 

Trembly is the Director of Ohio University's Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment. 

Trembly specializes in mechanical and chemical engineering and is one member of the team transforming Appalachian coal waste into renewable building materials. 

“It's actually going to induce continuing of existing mining facilities as a way to produce a feedstock to meet our building infrastructure needs. We're no longer burning that coal and generating CO2. The carbon in that feedstock material remains in the final product,” said Trembly. 

The project is made possible thanks to a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. 

Trembly, a Bobcat alum, said this so-called second life for coal can bring significant change to the building industry and beyond. 

“Engineer composites are going to be utilized, decking, railing to carbon foams, which can be made into walls, solar panels," said Trembly. "And applications of graphite, so you know we're talking about electrification of the transportation sector and that is moving forward at a rapid pace."

Trembly said carbon-based products will also come with a much lower price tag than your typical wood product. 

The hope for a more sustainable and cost-effective future has OU students in the department excited to be on board. 

“What we're doing right now in the additive manufacturing project, it would have a lot of help for hands-on experience and research and experimental skills down the line for me,” said OU student Marcus Pettiford. 

Trembly said to his knowledge, OU is the only university in the state of Ohio working in this particular area. 

“We've reduced the amount of CO2 being burned from coal, going into the atmosphere, we're using the bi-product and we're also reducing the amount of plastics in the environment," said Caleb Gula, another OU student. "This allows us to have this super sustainable material."

Trembly also said talks are ongoing with home improvement stores to carry their products. 

He is optimistic that within the next decade, manufacturing facilities could employ thousands of Ohio workers, giving a boost to the economy. 

For Ohio students interested in mechanical engineering, or manufacturing, Trembly said to find opportunities to work or intern with companies who specialize in those areas and apply classroom skill sets to real life.