Many industries use heat-intensive processes that typically require the burning of fossil fuels, but an amazing green fuel alternative is emerging in the form of metal powder. Cheap, very fine iron powder burns easily at high temperatures, releasing energy as it oxidizes in a process that emits no carbon and produces an easily collected iron oxide as its only emission.
If burning metal powder for fuel sounds strange, the next part of the process will be even more amazing. That oxide can be recovered directly as iron powder with electricity, and if done using solar, wind, or other carbon-free power generation systems, you end up with a totally carbon-free cycle. The iron acts as a kind of clean battery for combustion processes, charging itself through one of several means, including electrolysis, and discharging itself in flame and heat.
Recently, the family- owned Swinkels brewery in the Netherlands became the first company in the world to put this process into operation on an industrial scale.
The company has been working with the Metal Power Consortium and researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology to install a cyclic iron fuel system at its Bavarian brewery that is capable of providing all the heat needed for some 15 million glasses of beer per day. 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. Through this innovative technology, we want to make our brewing process less dependent on fossil fuels. We will continue to invest in this innovation.
Peer Swinkels, CEO of Royal Swinkels Family Brewers.
As a clean burnable energy storage medium, the advantages of iron powder include the fact that it is cheap and abundant, the fact that it is easy to transport and has a good energy density, its high combustion temperature of up to 1,800 ° C, and the fact that (unlike hydrogen, for example) it does not need to be cryogenically cooled, nor does it lose energy during long periods of storage.
The efficiency of the round-trip energy cycle of this system depends on the processes used to put the energy into the iron in the regeneration process. High-efficiency iron oxide electrolysis can store up to 80% of its input energy in the iron fuel, according to this 2018 study – a figure similar to that achieved with modern hydrogen splitting.
While we are proud of this huge milestone, we also look to the future. There is already a follow-up project that aims to build a 1 MW system in which we are also working on the technical improvement of the system. We are also making plans for a 10 MW system that should be ready in 2024. Our ambition is to convert the first coal-fired power plants to sustainable iron fuel plants by 2030.
Chan Botter, SOLID group, Eindhoven University of Technology.
Using this type of cyclic process to generate electricity could approach a theoretical efficiency of around 40%. It might seem a bit strange to generate renewable energy and then throw away 60% of it in the form of inefficient steam turbine generation processes, but this could end up being a flexible and cost-effective way to capture, distribute and even export the renewable energy that is generated. generated at times when there is no demand for it to be fed directly into the grid.
Passing iron powder through existing power generation infrastructure, which might simply need to be retrofitted to cope with a different combustion process, would create a very clean , yet load-responsive power grid, which it could be powered by a warehouse of easily stored, trucked-in raw materials, either from clean and renewable energy regeneration operations, as described above, or from any number of industrial manufacturing operations.
Economics will eventually determine how far this idea goes, of course, and that remains in question at this early stage. But the idea seems to have some advantages over hydrogen, pumped hydraulics, batteries, or kinetic energy storage, depending on what it’s being used for, and it’s an interesting idea to consider.
More information: swinkelsfamilybrewers.com – www.tue.nl