Sunday September 24, 2023

'Metal fuel gives carbon-free energy on Earth and Moon'

Study to understand discrete burning of iron powder, leads to carbon-free, recyclable energy storage, said to be potential candidate for sustainable fuels in future

By Web Desk
June 06, 2023
This representational picture shows the flames produced when burning iron. — Unsplash/File
This representational picture shows the flames produced when burning iron. — Unsplash/File

Any matter can burn when oxygen is added; however, some materials burn more readily than others depending on the mixture and amount of heat produced.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) microgravity experiment facilities were employed by researchers who were interested in studying a type of fire termed "discrete burning."

A group of scientists led by Professor Jeffrey Bergthorson from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and McGill University in Canada studied burning iron powder in zero gravity during a series of parabolic flights and on sounding rockets launched from Sweden, SciTech Daily reported.

The group studied discrete burning, where flames jump from one fuel source to another, using iron dust in experiments on zero-gravity aircraft and rocket flights, the report said.

The use of high-speed cameras captured the phenomenon, while computer models showed the ideal conditions for burning fuel on Earth.

Discrete burning to produce sustainable energy

Microgravity research has enabled the construction of efficient and practical iron-burning furnaces that can produce 1 MW of steam in a warehouse.

Thanks to chemistry, burning iron produces rust, which is easily collected and emits no noxious gases, unlike carbon-based fuel, which produces carbon dioxide.

Iron rust can be processed to remove the oxygen and return it to iron using hydrogen, making it a circular, endlessly recyclable energy storage medium. Multiple start-ups are pursuing this carbon-free fuel to power factories and industrial processes.

In Budel, the Netherlands, close to Eindhoven, a demonstration facility is already operational. Its generator can generate 1 MW of steam in a unit that is placed within a warehouse, using iron as its fuel source.

Such an iron power plant might generate significantly more energy if scaled up.

Journey back-and-forth from space, to Earth and to the moon

Providing electricity for the astronauts on the moon is just one of the difficulties to be solved as space organisations get ready to construct viable lunar settlements.

However, solar energy can be used to produce aluminium, silicon, hydrogen, and oxygen from lunar ice, which can be used as sustainable propellants for rockets and ground transportation.

Although the idea of using iron as a fuel source on Earth was first proposed only ten years ago, this procedure might today appear like science fiction.

The metal fuel community is now a leader in alternative carbon-free fuel technology.