Storing solar power by incinerating metals


Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have developed a way to store electricity produced by wind and solar installations, by incinerating scrap metals. The storage technique uses wind and solar electricity to power systems that combust metal power, usually iron or aluminum, and make it react with heated air or steam.

“The heat released can be used to drive turbines which in turn produce electricity,” the scientists said, noting that at the end of this process, the metal oxide remains as a powder. “Alternatively, one can choose to produce hydrogen gas, in which case the combustion takes place with hot steam.”

They said that by using solar or wind power, the oxidized powder can become ordinary metal again. The claimed that the process is safe, cheap and fossil-free.

“Using electrolysis, the metal oxide can be converted back into metal,” said the researchers. “It can be done by pouring the metal oxide powder into a solution with cryolite into which two current-carrying electrodes are inserted to start a chemical reaction.”

The research group plans to build a facility based on the circular process at a brewery in southern Sweden, where electricity production needs to be expanded. Their work builds on multi-year research efforts on the burning of metals such as iron and aluminum.

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“The pilot plant will be like a small coal-fired power plant, but where the coal is replaced by iron,” said researcher Marcus Aldén.

The team hopes to replicate the plan at other locations in Sweden's Skåne region.

“Together with some research groups in Germany, Canada and Holland, we came to the conclusion that these common metals are so promising as both an energy source and an energy carrier that they could function as an element of the energy supply,” the academics said, without providing additional technical details. 

The researchers are likely referring to the Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung in Germany and TU Eindhoven in the Netherlands, which published a paper in Acta Materialia in October to present a similar technology.

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