With the debate on Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels from Russia, many point to other alternatives to take the step forward, end the need for gas and oil and bet on clean and reusable energy. Currently, within these premises, there are those who heat themselves using clean and reusable energy… iron powder.
Not coal, not gas, not electricity, not even hydrogen, but iron powder to heat 500 houses in the Netherlands. What will this product be?
There is in the planet's anxiety a dream of having clean and inexhaustible energy. To date, some candidates are known, but they are still far from being an option, for several reasons, including the technological difficulty.
Sustainable alternative energy to fossil fuels
The company RIFT (Renewable Iron Fuel Technology) from the Technical University of Eindhoven wants to use iron fuel on a global scale as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels to reduce CO2 emissions.
The pilot project that you are carrying out together with Ennatuurlijk is an important step towards this goal. In the Dutch city of Helmond, the company is working on a pilot boiler with a capacity of 1 MW. This boiler can be used, via the Ennatuurlijk heating network, to provide heating for 500 homes.
The system works as follows: the iron powder is burned in the boiler. In this process a lot of heat is released, for example for heating networks. What remains is oxide dust. This can be converted back into iron powder using hydrogen, which in turn "charges" the powder and creates a circular fuel.
The company is building a pilot facility for these two components. The first boiler to burn iron powder will be installed in Helmond. The system that converts the rust powder into iron powder is located in Arnhem. It's the first of its kind.
Industrial processes and heat networks require large amounts of energy. Sustainable alternatives such as electricity and hydrogen cannot always provide it. Our networks are not designed to deliver as much power to the industry, beyond current usage, in such a short period of time. That is why, in these sectors, alternatives such as iron powder are really important.
Said Mark Verhagen, CEO of RIFT.
Energy without CO2 and less nitrogen
As mentioned, no CO2 is released in this process. In addition, nitrogen emissions during the process are much lower than those of coal or gas. Iron fuel also offers a number of advantages. On the one hand, it has a high energy density. One cubic meter of iron fuel contains as much energy as eleven cubic meters of high-pressure hydrogen. In addition, it is much safer to store and transport than hydrogen.
On the other hand, it does not lose energy during storage.
The start of the RIFT came from the SOLID student team at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). The team has been working with university researchers on the technology behind iron fuel since 2015.
The group tested the technology in 2020 at the Swinkels brewery. Iron fuel produced the heat needed in the brewing process. There, they were able to prove that the technology works. With the current project, they want to show that it also has commercial potential.
With this experience and the good results in the pilot projects, RIFT expects to build a 5 MW iron-fired power plant within two years. To this end, a letter of intent was signed to collaborate with Veolia Industrial Services, a global company that provides water, waste and energy management solutions.
With the current one megawatt pilot project, we are studying the most important components of the plant in a commercial environment. Later, we will be able to further optimize the system and expand it to five megawatts.
I see iron fuel as an important sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, along with wind turbines, solar panels and hydrogen. Our goal is to be able to decarbonize heavy industry around the world with iron fuel.
Concluded Mark Verhagen.