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Your Next Car Could Be Made From Coal Waste

If we're burning it, we might as well use the waste. A new option: Make ultra-light car engines out of coal fly ash.


There are few environmental upsides to burning coal--the practice is dirty, it increases greenhouse gas emissions, and it's detrimental to human health. But for now, at least, we're stuck with coal; it will be a long time until we can fully wean ourselves off the stuff. In the meantime, why not do something useful with coal waste?

Nikhil Gupta, a professor at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn, has figured out how to manufacture car parts out of fly ash, a ceramic-based byproduct of coal production--and China's largest source of solid industrial waste. The waste product, which usually ends up in landfills (or in accident-prone storage facilities), can be mixed with metals like magnesium and aluminum to create a lightweight substance that is just as strong as the metals by themselves.

According to Gupta, making car parts--like engine covers or mounts--out of the metal-fly ash mix could save fuel (lightweight vehicles use less fuel) as well as cash, since aluminum currently costs about $2 a pound and fly ash is free. Gupta has also simulated what would happen if his fly-ash components were smashed in a car accident at 60 mph. They held up fine.

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