Many industries use heat-intensive processes that generally require the burning of fossil fuels, but a surprising green fuel alternative is emerging in the form of metal powders. Ground very fine, cheap iron powder burns readily at high temperatures, releasing energy as it oxidizes in a process that emits no carbon and produces easily collectable rust, or iron oxide, as its only emission.
If burning metal powder as fuel sounds strange, the next part of the process will be even more surprising. That rust can be regenerated straight back into iron powder with the application of electricity, and if you do this using solar, wind or other zero-carbon power generation systems, you end up with a totally carbon-free cycle. The iron acts as a kind of clean battery for combustion processes, charging up via one of a number of means including electrolysis, and discharging in flames and heat.
Recently, Swinkels Family Brewers in the Netherlands has become the first business in the world to put this process to work at an industrial scale. The company has been working with the Metal Power Consortium and researchers at TU Eindhoven to install a cyclical iron fuel system at its Brewery Bavaria that’s capable of providing all the heat necessary for some 15 million glasses of beer a year.
“We are enormously proud to be the first company to test this new fuel on an industrial scale in order to help accelerate the energy transition,” said Peer Swinkels, CEO of Royal Swinkels Family Brewers. “As a family business, we invest in a sustainable and circular economy because we think in terms of generations, not years. We combine this way of thinking with high-quality knowledge in the collaboration with the Metal Power Consortium. Through this innovative technology, we want to make our brewing process less dependent on fossil fuels. We will continue to invest in this innovation.”