It sounds crazy, right?
In the Netherlands, a brewery called Royal Swinkels Family Brewers is making history by using a cycle of renewable iron as fuel for its furnace.
They’re working with Eindhoven University of Technology and a think tank called Metal Power to reason out the circular economy of burning iron, reports New Atlas.
“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.”
It works like this: iron is burned in furnaces, fulfilling a key industry requirement for high heat that isn’t covered by many other renewables. Then, the rust waste is recycled back into iron fuel by way of electrical energy from clean sources.
Researcher Niels Dean explains further:
“Iron powder is also easy to transport and can be recycled. If you combust iron powder with hot gases to drive a turbine or an engine, rust powder remains.
Using hydrogen produced from electricity surpluses from sustainable sources you turn it into iron powder again. That’s how you extract the oxygen from the rust particles.”
If you’re wondering why we’re just now thinking of this, well, you’re not alone.
The researchers believe that’s because fossil fuels are both plentiful and cheap, which are both good reasons that they’ve dominated the market when it comes to energy.
Eindhoven University says too, that iron powder is only available from a few suppliers around the world, meaning that production would need to increase for it to be a viable source of renewable energy.
Brewery Bavaria, owned by Royal Swinkels, believes they’re the first business in the world to use a cyclical iron-burning furnace.
Peter Swinkels, their CEO, said the following…
“As a family business, we invest in a sustainable and circular economy because we think in terms of generations, not years.”
The way beer is heated while brewing presents a particular challenge for the use of renewable energy.
It needs to burn hot, but also at a full boil, often within a few minutes of each other.
That said, with the government of the Netherlands determined to phase out the use of natural gas by 2022, researchers have great incentive to find different sources of energy – and iron burns hot and clean, and it can easily be recycled.
There are kinks to work out if we hope to apply the trick worldwide, but for industries that use high heat and are looking for cleaner, more efficient sources of reusable energy, iron seems like it could be the way of the future.
What do you think about this idea?
Let us know in the comments!