Iron Powder Passes First Industrial Test as Renewable, Carbon Dioxide-Free Fuel

Basic dilemma: What if we could curb this full fossil fuel-fed climate change nightmare and burn off a little something else as an electrical power source instead? As a reward, what if that a little something else is a single of the most frequent factors on Earth?

Basic remedy: Let us burn off iron.

Even though placing fireplace to an iron ingot is likely additional trouble than it is well worth, good iron powder combined with air is remarkably combustible. When you burn off this mixture, you’re oxidizing the iron. Whereas a carbon fuel oxidizes into COtwo, an iron fuel oxidizes into FetwoO3, which is just rust. The pleasant factor about rust is that it is a reliable which can be captured submit-combustion. And which is the only byproduct of the entire business—in goes the iron powder, and out will come electrical power in the form of heat and rust powder. Iron has an electrical power density of about 11.3 kWh/L, which is improved than gasoline. Despite the fact that its unique electrical power is a relatively poor one.4 kWh/kg, indicating that for a provided volume of electrical power, iron powder will just take up a minimal bit considerably less house than gasoline but it’ll be nearly 10 instances heavier.

It may well not be suitable for powering your motor vehicle, in other terms. It likely won’t heat your home either. But it could be perfect for marketplace, which is where by it is getting examined right now.

Scientists from TU Eindhoven have been building iron powder as a useful fuel for the previous quite a few a long time, and past month they put in an iron powder heating program at a brewery in the Netherlands, which is turning all that stored up electrical power into beer. Considering the fact that electric power just can’t successfully develop the kind of heat necessary for several industrial purposes (brewing bundled), iron powder is a practical zero-carbon solution, with only rust left more than.

So what transpires to all that rust? This is where by points get intelligent, due to the fact the iron isn’t just a fuel which is consumed— it is electrical power storage that can be recharged. And to recharge it, you just take all that FetwoO3, strip out the oxygen, and change it back again into Fe, ready to be burned again. It is not effortless to do this, but much of the electrical power and work that it can take to pry all those Os away from the Fes get returned to you when you burn off the Fe the next time. The thought is that you can use the exact iron more than and more than again, discharging it and recharging it just like you would a battery.

To sustain the zero-carbon character of the iron fuel, the recharging procedure has to be zero-carbon as perfectly. There are a selection of various ways of making use of electric power to change rust back again into iron, and a consortium led by TU/e researchers is exploring 3 various systems based on sizzling hydrogen reduction (which turns iron oxide and hydrogen into iron and water), as they explained to us in an e mail:

Mesh Belt Furnace: In the mesh belt furnace the iron oxide is transported by a conveyor belt by a furnace in which hydrogen is additional at 800-1000°C. The iron oxide is minimized to iron, which sticks collectively due to the fact of the heat, ensuing in a layer of iron. This can then be floor up to get iron powder.
Fluidized Bed Reactor: This is a standard reactor type, but its use in hydrogen reduction of iron oxide is new. In the fluidized mattress reactor the response is carried out at lessen temperatures all around 600°C, steering clear of sticking, but getting extended.
Entrained Movement Reactor: The entrained circulation reactor is an endeavor to implement flash ironmaking technological know-how. This process performs the response at superior temperatures, 1100-1400°C, by blowing the iron oxide by a response chamber collectively with the hydrogen circulation to keep away from sticking. This may well be a superior option, but it is a new technological know-how and has nonetheless to be proven.

Both of those generation of the hydrogen and the heat needed to operate the furnace or the reactors demand electrical power, of study course, but it is grid electrical power that can arrive from renewable sources. 

If renewing the iron fuel calls for hydrogen, an obvious dilemma is why not just use hydrogen as a zero-carbon fuel in the initially place? The difficulty with hydrogen is that as an electrical power storage medium, it is tremendous aggravating to offer with, considering that storing valuable amounts of it generally consists of superior force and intense chilly. In a localized industrial placing (like you’d have in your rust reduction plant) this isn’t as large of a offer, but after you start striving to distribute it, it turns into a true headache. Iron powder, on the other hand, is protected to cope with, stores indefinitely, and can be simply moved with existing bulk carriers like rail.

Which is why its long term looks to be in purposes where by weight is not a key problem and collection of the rust is feasible. In addition to industrial heat technology (which will ultimately incorporate retrofitting coal-fired electricity crops to burn off iron powder as an alternative), the TU/e researchers are exploring regardless of whether iron powder could be made use of as fuel for substantial cargo ships, which are extraordinarily filthy carbon emitters that are also developed to have a good deal of weight. 

Philip de Goey, a professor of combustion technological know-how at TU/e, explained to us that he hopes to be ready to deploy 10 MW iron powder superior-temperature heat systems for marketplace in just the next four a long time, with 10 a long time to the initially coal electricity plant conversion. There are however worries, de Goey tells us: “the technological know-how requirements refinement and enhancement, the market for metallic powders requirements to be scaled up, and metallic powders have to be aspect of the long term electrical power program and regarded as protected and thoroughly clean different.” De Goey’s see is that iron powder has a sizeable but perfectly-constrained purpose in electrical power storage, transportation, and generation that enhances other zero-carbon sources like hydrogen. For a zero carbon electrical power long term, de Goey says, “there is no winner or loser— we want them all.”