Many industries use heat-intensive processes which generally require the combustion of fossil fuels, but a amazing green fuel alternative in metallic powder form. The inexpensive and super fine iron powder easily burns at high temperatures, releasing energy when it rusts a process that does not emit carbon and that it produces iron oxide, which can be easily collected, as the only emission.
If burning metal dust for fuel seems odd, the next step in the process will be even more surprising. This oxide can be recovered directly as an iron powder with electricity, and if made using carbon-free solar, wind or other power generation systems, it ends in a fully cycle. carbon free. Iron acts as a kind of clean battery for combustion processes, charging by one of several means, including electrolysis, and discharging in flame and heat.
Recently the Swinkels family brewery in the Netherlands he became the first company in the world to implement this process on an industrial scale.
The company worked with the Metal Power Consortium and researchers from the Technical University of Eindhoven to install a cyclic iron supply system in its Bavarian brewery which is capable of providing all the heat needed for around 15 million glasses of beer per year.
We are extremely proud to be the first company to test this new fuel on an industrial scale to help accelerate the energy transition. As a family business, we invest in a sustainable and circular economy because we think in terms of generations, not years. We combine this way of thinking with high quality knowledge in collaboration with the Metal Power Consortium. With this innovative technology, we want our brewing process to be less dependent on fossil fuels. We will continue to invest in this innovation.
Peer Swinkels, CEO of Royal Swinkels Family Brewers.
As a means of storing clean burnable energy, The benefits of iron powder include the fact that it is cheap and plentiful, the fact that it is easy to transport and has good energy density, its high combustion temperature of up to 1800 ° C, and the fact that (unlike hydrogen, for example) it does not need to be cryogenically cooled, nor to lose energy during long periods of storage.
The efficiency of the round-trip power cycle of this system it depends on the processes used to put the energy into the iron in the process of regeneration. The high-efficiency electrolysis of iron oxide can store up to 80% of its input energy in the iron fuel, according to this 2018 study – a figure similar to that obtained with the modern hydrogen division.
While we are proud of this milestone, we are also looking to the future. There is already a follow-up project that aims to achieve a 1 MW system in which we are also working on the technical improvement of the system. We are also planning a 10 MW system which should be ready in 2024. Our ambition is to convert the first coal-fired power plants to sustainable iron plants by 2030.
Chan Botter, SOLID group, Technical University of Eindhoven.
Using this type of cyclic process to generate electricity could approach a theoretical efficiency of about 40%. It may seem a little strange to produce renewable energy and then throw away 60% of it in the form of inefficient production processes with steam turbines, but it could end up being a flexible and cost-effective way to capture, distribute and even export the renewable energy that it generates in moments when there is no demand so that it is directly fed into the grid.
The passage of iron dust through the existing power generation infrastructure, which may simply require adaptation to cope with a different combustion process, would create a very clean electricity network, but meeting the needs of the cargo, which could operate with an easy to store raw material warehouse, transported by trucks, either from clean and renewable energy regeneration operations, as described above, or from of any number of industrial manufacturing operations.
The economy will ultimately determine how far that idea goes, of course, and that remains in question at this early stage. But the idea seems to have advantages over hydrogen, pumped hydraulics, batteries or kinetic energy storage, depending on its use, and this is an interesting idea that should be taken into account.