Despite the world continuously finding ways to save the world from climate change, many industries still rely on conventional methods that generally require combustion of destructive fossil fuels. That’s why a brewery in the Netherlands has introduced a surprising green fuel alternative by using iron powder as a fuel for its furnace.
Turning Iron Powder To Fuel – How It Works
If you’re curious enough, here’s how it works: ground very fine, iron powder burns readily at high temperatures, releasing significant amounts of energy as it oxidizes to produce iron oxide (Fe2O3) or rust. So if burning metal into fuel sound strange, the next part is even stranger. The iron oxide can be regenerated back to iron powder using electricity, but if you go using wind or solar, you could end up with a carbon-free cycle. Royal Swinkels Family Brewers, together with Eindhoven University of technology and Metal Power is working together on the matter of metal burning. Generally, iron powder acts like an ‘eco-battery’ during combustion, charging up using electrolysis and discharging in flames and heat.
Eindhoven University researcher Niels Dena explains:
The First Of Its Kind
Sounds cool, right? If you’re wondering why this hasn’t been tapped before. Simple: because the world heavily relies on the abundance of fossil fuels and is dominated by them. Even today, iron powder is just funneled through a handful of suppliers worldwide. For a smooth transition from fossil fuels, iron powder production would need to scale its supply up to an industrial level.
Brewery Bavaria, which has been around for over 300 years, says it’s the first to use a cyclical iron powder-burning furnace. Theoretically, it could be 40% efficient. It may seem odd to generate renewable energy while tossing out the remaining percentage, but this could be a cost-effective way to capture and distribute renewable energy.
Beer is heated and boiled during the brewing process. This kind of heat is a challenge for renewable energy. Users of electric stoves know that the burners must gradually warm up first before they’ll be able to cook anything, which is fine for home use but can constrict the timelines of the beer industry, which makes millions of servings a year, for instance.
But like most European countries, the Netherlands is on a move to phase out natural gas by 2022. This has incentivized researchers to find newer and greener ways of developing renewable fuel. Economics will eventually determine how feasible this idea will be in industrial scenarios. But the idea seems to have an edge over kinetic energy storage, pumped hydro, hydrogen, and batteries, depending on what it will be used for, and it’s certainly an interesting idea to look forward to. For industries that require heat, the energy from burning iron powder could be the solution for a better world.