Team Solid x Swinkels | Made with Eindhoven
TU/e students are working on a way to turn iron powder into a new and clean fuel. The technology is getting closer and closer, but how will you get the industry involved? Student team SOLID starts with the beer brewers of Bavaria.
In the list of clean fuels, iron powder is still relatively unknown. In 2015, McGill University in Canada published a study on metal fuels as a possible substitute for fossil fuels. The advantage of iron powder is that no CO2 is released during combustion. The only thing that remains after combustion is rust. This rust can be converted back into iron powder using renewable energy, such as solar or wind energy, making a circular system possible.
The fact that the TU/e is now building such a system is a story of many small steps, starting with Eindhoven professor Philip de Goey and the establishment of student team SOLID, and with the next milestone being a CO2 neutral brewed beer.
Dreams of iron powder
One Thursday morning we meet with Mark Verhagen of SOLID. He has been the manager of the team since September, which now has thirty students. Cheerful, driven and a convert when it comes to sustainable energy. Because to be honest, he says over a cup of coffee, he never fully believed in it, in the energy transition. It was only when a roommate told him about SOLID that a sense of hope came. The feeling that we could actually have a CO2-neutral production and transportation system in the future.
Now, he works more than full-time on the team's mission: clean and renewable energy for everyone, at all times, in which iron powder will play a very important role. "I see the same drive with all SOLID students. The other night a team member told me that for the first time he hadn't dreamed about SOLID that night.” Cheerfully: "Just to show you how deep it goes."
Testing in Lieshout
Back to the little steps. So there was that publication from Canada, and then a professor from Eindhoven who picked it up. Three TU/e students then started experimenting with the technology. In 2017 they succeeded in producing a stable iron flame in the lab. Mark: "And now we have developed an installation fourteen metres wide, which will run at the Bavaria brewery in Lieshout.
In Lieshout the iron powder will be used as a sustainable fuel to produce steam for the brewing process. The project is supported by the Province of Noord-Brabant and is a collaboration between nine other companies and organizations and the TU/e. "The trial is meant to show the whole world, but especially the industry: look, it's possible. This technology is an alternative to systems that still run on fossil fuels".
Illustratie door: Rik Stabel
Next step: shipping
Investing in the relationship with these types of companies is something that the team is as committed to as the development of the technology itself. Mark starts his day almost by default with calling new contacts. These are not only tech companies, but also banks, insurers and investors. Various parties contribute financially. In addition to the province, Shell is on board and the German energy company Uniper (a spin-off from E.ON).
What comes after the sustainable beer? Mark, who now sounds a little more diplomatic: "I would like to connect our high-tech region to the port of Rotterdam, where there are large CO2 emitters in the form of shipping. Brainport and Seaport together. The challenge with a lot of sustainable fuels is how to store them. With iron powder you don't have that problem. That makes it a suitable fuel for, for example, long-distance ships that have to travel in a more sustainable way.”
It is another step towards CO2 reduction. But first up is a CO2 neutral beer. In May, the trial with Swinkels Family Brewers will start.