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If enthusiasm were a fuel, professors Niels Deen and Philip de Goey would never have to fill up. Just like Mark Verhagen, manager of Team SOLID. The three of them talk enthusiastically at Eindhoven University of Technology about their "baby," a pilot installation fired with iron powder that produces heat. The structure, developed by the Metal Power consortium to which Team SOLID belongs and is financed by the Province of Noord-Brabant, has no CO2 emissions and the residual product—rust—can be recovered. "Moreover, we don't have to worry that we have any shortage of iron," says Professor of Combustion Technology De Goey. "Iron is our plant's most common element."
Colleague Niels Deen (Mechanical Engineering) calls metal powder a promising energy carrier. "The supply of energy from wind turbines and solar panels fluctuates enormously. Where there is a surplus of supply, you need to be able to store that energy. You can do that with batteries, but that is not suitable for all situations, such as storing large amounts of energy. We are now investigating an alternative: storing energy in iron powder. "When you burn that powder, the energy is released as heat." Deen: "Think of the iron powder as a charged battery. When combusted, you get energy from it and what remains is an empty battery in the form of rust. By making iron powder out of the rust again, you recharge the battery. And you can do that over and over again." The capacity of iron powder for energy storage is impressive
Deen: "Iron powder is also easy to transport and can be recycled. If you combust iron powder with hot gases to drive a turbine or an engine, rust powder remains. Using hydrogen produced from electricity surpluses from sustainable sources you turn it into iron powder again. That's how you extract the oxygen from the rust particles."
If iron is such a beautiful energy carrier, why is it that we working on it only now? "Human beings have been burning metal for centuries. Think of fireworks, developed by the Chinese. But exactly how it all works is something we've only known for a few years," says Philip de Goey. According to Niels Deen, there is another important reason: "There has always been an easier alternative: fossil fuels. If they are widely available, cheap and everyone wants to use them, then why look for alternatives? But we have the zeitgeist with us now. "Metal fuels' are benefiting from that."
De Goey is sure that the focus on iron as a fuel will grow rapidly. "Now that we're scaling it up, everyone wants to join in. No more milligrams and small flames in the lab, no, we're building an industrial incinerator. With an output of up to 1 megawatt. Companies that used to say 'that's fun but let's really see something," are now taking our project very seriously."
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