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Discovery and ramifications of incidental Magnéli phase generation and release from industrial coal-burning
Hower, James C.
Brandt, Jessica E.
Di Giulio, Richard T.
Hochella, Michael F. Jr.
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Coal, as one of the most economic and abundant energy sources, remains the leading fuel for producing electricity worldwide. Yet, burning coal produces more global warming CO2 relative to all other fossil fuels, and it is a major contributor to atmospheric particulate matter known to have a deleterious respiratory and cardiovascular impact in humans, especially in China and India. Here we have discovered that burning coal also produces large quantities of otherwise rare Magneli phases (Ti; x; O2x–1 with 4 ≤ x ≤ 9) from TiO2 minerals naturally present in coal. This provides a new tracer for tracking solid-state emissions worldwide from industrial coal-burning. In its first toxicity testing, we have also shown that nanoscale Magneli phases have potential toxicity pathways that are not photoactive like TiO2 phases, but instead seem to be biologically active without photostimulation. In the future, these phases should be thoroughly tested for their toxicity in the human lung. Solid-state emissions from coal burning remain an environmental concern. Here, the authors have found that TiO2 minerals present in coal are converted into titanium suboxides during burning, and initial biotoxicity screening suggests that further testing is needed to look into human lung consequences.