Experts are beginning to look into iron powder combustion as an energy source since it is one of the most available elements on the Earth’s surface. The advantage of blazing iron is that instead of generating carbon dioxide, a lousy gas, the product is rust and retrievable easily. Additionally, rust is the only product that comes from the reaction combined with heat energy. On the other hand, burning carbon or natural gas emits carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, a silent killer gas. Even though iron powder takes less space, it is much heavier than natural gas, which takes a bigger space.
The challenge with iron combustion is that it is inappropriate for running cars and heating households. Nevertheless, the energy could be useful in industrial operations. TU Eindhoven researchers have been pressing and studying how iron powder can fuel in the coming years. The team developed a pilot plant to evaluate the suitability of iron powder in generating energy. The researchers discovered that industries have a mega problem depending on electricity to power their operations and identified iron powder combustion as an alternative for this energy requirement.
Furthermore, the byproduct, iron trioxide, is retrievable to generate iron that can still undergo the same procedure making it a cycle. The cycle ensures that energy enters the other system without producing dirty fumes and gases. To ensure that the process does not emit carbonaceous gases, the recharging procedure should maintain carbon-free combustion materials. The researchers have been evaluating three pathways of recovering the iron from its oxidized product.
In the mesh belt furnace process, the rust enters a conveyor belt where it encounters hydrogen at a minimum of 800°C. The product is descaled of the oxygen, leaving iron powder, which is the primary product. On the other hand, the fluidized bed reactor process uses the same principle as the mesh belt furnace, although the hydrogen is introduced at low temperatures reaching 600°C. This move is to ensure that the powder is not sticky enough to be trapped in the reactor.
The final method is the entrained flow reactor process. In this technique, the rust enters the reaction chamber and meets hydrogen at a temperature not less than 1100°C. Nevertheless, the entrained flow reactor technology is still under development to prove its efficiency before treading it on a large scale. The advantage of these processes is that they can run on renewable energy, provide the energy concentrates, and regularly flow to prevent unnecessary power surges.
Finally, the challenge with this technology is the storage of hydrogen energy. Since the gas is highly explosive, the storage containers must be appropriately observed to prevent leakages resulting in catastrophic accidents.