De verbranding van het ijzerpoeder, zichtbaar door het kijkglas in de verbrandingsbuis. Foto: Bart van Overbeeke

Researchers and the SOLID student team from the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), together with Swinkels Family Brewers and what is known as the Metal Power Consortium, are presenting the world’s first industrial facility that uses iron powder as a new circular fuel.

This iron fuel is a promising CO2-free, reusable, safe, compact, and easily transportable energy carrier. By successfully connecting the installation to the Bavaria brewery’s brewing process, they are proving that the use of iron fuel is a sustainable alternative for industry and the power stations. Today, Thursday afternoon October 29 at 1 pm CET, a live stream on ironfuel.nl will demonstrate this world premiere from the brewery in Lieshout in the Netherlands.

Electric power stations and energy-intensive industries together account for 40% of global CO2 emissions. This figure must be reduced to zero in order to achieve our climate targets. To date, there are few CO2-free and scalable alternatives for these sectors. Moreover, renewable energy generated by the sun or wind cannot always be used in these industries. This is because the timing and location for energy generation or the form of energy used does not always suit their energy demand.

Circular process

Lately, iron fuel seems to be the candidate of choice. “The beauty of iron fuel is that you can release the energy stored in iron powder whenever and wherever you need it,” says Philip de Goey. He is a professor of Combustion Technology at the Eindhoven University of Technology. “Fine iron powder burns well and releases a lot of energy in the form of heat. This type of heat can supply industries with their energy demand.”

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The iron powder is poured into the iron fuel installation at the Bavaria brewery in Lieshout. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

In addition, the iron powder is reusable and easy to transport. “No CO2 is formed during combustion, all that remains is rust,” De Goey explains. “It’s a circular process. You collect this rust powder and convert it back into iron powder in a sustainable way.”

On top of that, iron fuel is safe and does not lose any energy during storage. For these reasons, iron fuel is easy and safe to store for longer periods of time and can be transported over longer distances.

Watch this animation to see exactly how the iron fuel circular process works. 

Accelerating the energy transition

The brewery is a typical example of an industrial process that is powered by (fossil fuel) heat. With its current setup, it can brew up to 15 million glasses of beer.

“We are enormously proud to be the first company to test this new fuel on an industrial scale and thereby help accelerate the energy transition,” says Peer Swinkels, CEO of Royal Swinkels Family Brewers. “We want to use this innovative technology to make our brewing process less dependent on fossil fuels and we will continue to invest in this as well.”

Converting coal-fired power plants to iron fuel plants

“Although this is a huge milestone that we are proud of, we are looking ahead,” says Chan Botter, team leader of the SOLID student team. “A follow-up project is already underway to scale it up to 1 MW and make technical improvements to the system. We are now drawing up plans for a 10 MW system to be ready by 2024. Our ambition is to be able to convert the first coal-fired power plants into sustainable iron fuel plants by 2030.”

You can also read other IO articles about iron powder as an alternative fuel via this link.

The Metal Power Consortium is financed by the Dutch Province of North Brabant and is made up of the following partners: TU/e, Metalot, SOLID, Uniper, Enpuls, Nyrstar, EM Group, Heat Power and Romico.

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About the author

Author profile picture Arnoud Cornelissen has for many years been writing about science and technology in, among others, various Dutch newspapers.