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Metal Power: iron powder as an alternative to coal

Replacing coal in a coal-fired power station with more sustainable iron powder is the goal on which Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), Team SOLID, the province of North Brabant and Metalot are working together. Within the Metal Power project, they want to further develop a system for energy storage via metal.

 

TU/e has been researching the foundations of metal fuels for several years now and the student team SOLID built a test system in which iron powder is burned. With the heat that is released, steam is made. The burnt iron powder, rust powder, is captured. This is a circulair process. The rust powder that is captured is used to make iron powder by blowing hydrogen through it. The hydrogen particle then goes back to the oxygen particle, which in turn produces iron. It is a circular system that no longer uses CO2. Energy can also be stored for a long time in the iron powder. There’s almost no loss due to a leak or battery drain.

Demonstration system

The first goal within the Metal Power project is to scale-up the test system to a 100-kilowatt demonstration system at the Metalotcampus in Cranendonck. Philip de Goey, project leader, professor at TU/e and chairman of Metalot3C, Metalot’s innovation centre, sees a rapid scaling-up ahead of him. “With this demonstration system, we want to show that large-scale combustion of metal powder, iron powder in this case, is possible.”

After the 100-kilowatt demonstration system, De Goey wants to make the system larger, step by step. “For a hundred kilowatts, one has to think of the capacity to drive a few cars.”

Ultimately, the idea is that iron powder can replace the coal in a coal-fired power station. Uniper has a coal-fired power station on the Maasvlakte and is investing in this project in order to be able to replace their coal with iron powder in the future. “They are also looking for new ways to generate energy and see a lot of potential in this project,” explains De Goey.

Brewery

The heat used in industry consists largely of steam. Therefore, the demonstration system will first be connected to Bavaria, a Dutch brewery. “After that, we will do extensive tests on the Metalot campus”, explains De Goey. “For example, we will try different iron powders. All these tests are to see when the system works properly and when it doesn’t.” Building the demonstration system and testing the possibilities of burning iron powder on a large scale instead of coal will take about two years. That concludes the Metal Power project. “We also hope to build a one-megawatt demonstration system during this project,” says De Goey.

Metal fuels

Metal fuels are one of the materials used to reduce CO2 emissions. In addition to iron powder, many people around the world are also looking at the possibilities of formic acid, electricity and hydrogen gas. According to De Goey, the latter two are not very promising for replacing coal-fired power stations. “Electricity could only be stored in enormous batteries. That is far too big and too heavy. And hydrogen gas is more difficult to store over the long term and has much more volume. That’s why it takes up too much space,” he says. “Iron powder is safe and compact. That’s why it’s more suitable.”

Cooperation

It is typically Brainport that so many different parties are involved in this project. The student team can make things very quickly and we are very flexible. The engineering companies involved have a lot of knowledge and experience in making these kinds of systems. How and where you are going to apply such a system and what the importance is within a sustainability transition, is where the province comes into play. The support of these parties and the involvement of the companies are crucial. Different elements of the system come from different companies. All these companies have to adapt their systems, to make a complete product.

Goal

The ultimate goal of the TU/e and the student team is to create an ecosystem for metal fuels as a circular energy carrier. According to them, the demonstration system is a step in that direction. “