Innovation That Matters

No carbon is emitted in this process | Photo source Bart van Overbeeke/TU Eindhoven

A brewery is burning iron as a green fuel alternative

Agriculture & Energy

Swinkels Family Brewery has been working with the Metal Power Consortium and researchers at TU Eindhoven, to install a cyclical iron fuel system at its brewery

Spotted: Most industries, such as breweries, use heat-intensive processes, which generally require the burning of fossil fuels. However, a new green fuel alternative has emerged that involves burning metal powder. When iron powder is ground very fine, it burns readily at high temperatures and releases energy as it oxidises. No carbon is emitted in this process — only iron oxide, which is regenerated back into iron powder when electricity is applied. Netherlands-based Swinkels Family Brewers have recently become the first business in the world to put this process to work at an industrial scale. Working with the Metal Power Consortium and researchers at TU Eindhoven, they have installed a cyclical iron fuel system at its Brewery Bavaria, which is capable of providing the necessary heat for approximately 15 million glasses of beer a year.

Swinkels Family Brewers are committed to investing in a sustainable and circular economy. With this process incorporated into their brewery, a completely carbon-free cycle can be achieved, if solar, wind or zero-carbon power generation systems are used too. The round-trip energy cycle efficiency of this system is dependent on the processes used to put the energy into the iron in the regeneration process, and the high-efficiency electrolysis of iron oxide can store as much as 80 per cent of input energy in the iron fuel. Iron powder comes with several advantages, including being cheap and abundant. It is easy to transport, has a good energy density, a high burning temperature of up to 1800 degree Celsius, and does not need to be cryogenically cooled, or lose any energy during long periods of storage.  

This idea is still at very early stages and a team at TU Eindhoven are working on follow-up projects, aiming to convert the first coal-fired power plants into sustainable iron fuel plants by 2030. Swinkels Family Brewery is determined to make their brewing process less dependent on fossil fuels and will continue to invest in the innovation.

Written By: Serafina Basciano

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