IEEE Spectrum, an award-winning technology magazine with a focus on engineering and applied sciences, spotlights Iron Power in an in-depth article about this project. Metalot, an independent nonprofit that works with partners to bring innovative technology to the market, is working in collaboration with other organizations such as startup IRON+ to build a large 1-megawatt power plant that can burn iron powder to generate entirely green and reusable energy. This will generate the power Royal Swinkels Family Brewers needs to brew beer at the Swinkels brewery in Lieshout. This is a test that has lasted several months. Prof. Philip de Goey, founder and chairman of the board of Metalot, and Jeff Bergthorson of McGill University in Canada, both founders of the technology, present the state of the art.
Professor Jeff Bergthorson explains that iron powder is an ideal alternative to fossil fuels because it is one of the most abundant metals in the world and has higher energy density than gasoline. When iron powder is burned, it creates heat which can be converted into clean energy. Combustion leaves behind rust, which can be converted back to iron powder with hydrogen at another time and place. This creates a self-sustaining cycle from which renewable energy can be continuously generated. Production and transportation will also eventually be cheaper than another green energy source: hydrogen.
Iron fuel also has disadvantages, according to Professor Bergthorson. For example, iron fuel is not as easy to ignite as hydrocarbon fuels and combustion is slower, making the flame more unstable and more likely to go out. Moreover, some of the iron powder will evaporate and form iron oxide nanoparticles that cannot be easily collected. Professor Philip de Goey explains that a solution has been devised for this, however. As a result, Metalot has managed to reduce the loss due to nanoparticle emissions by 10 times. Incidentally, these particles are not emitted into the atmosphere, but captured in a HEPA filter. Metalot also improved the boiler by increasing heat transfer efficiency.
Professor de Goey predicts that iron fuel can become an efficient alternative to fossil fuels and even other renewable energy sources. Renewable electricity will be able to be used to produce iron, store it as long as needed, transport it and burn it for energy. Professor Bergthorson adds that places with surplus energy can produce and sell iron, allowing renewable energy to be distributed worldwide without the need for transmission lines. "Metals can solve a major problem in the transition to renewable energy: the long-term storage of energy."
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