Story at a glance
- Swinkels Family Brewers demonstrated the first industrial installation to use iron powder as a new, circular fuel.
- The technology was built by researchers and students at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.
- There are several major questions still unanswered about the feasibility of the technology as a sustainable solution.
A Dutch brewery is the first to use iron powder as a carbon-free fuel to make 15 million glasses of beer.
A world premiere today at our Bavaria Brewery: the first industrial installation on iron fuel has been taken in to production. It’s a CO2 free and circular way to create thermic energy that we can use in our brewing processes. Thanks to our cooperation with @TUeindhoven pic.twitter.com/v9CnqxUPqK— Peer Swinkels (@Peer_Swinkels) October 29, 2020
“We are enormously proud to be the first company to test this new fuel on an industrial scale in order to help accelerate the energy transition,” Peer Swinkels, CEO of Royal Swinkels Family Brewers, said in a statement. “As a family business, we invest in a sustainable and circular economy because we think in terms of generations, not years. We combine this way of thinking with high-quality knowledge in the collaboration with the Metal Power Consortium. Through this innovative technology, we want to make our brewing process less dependent on fossil fuels. We will continue to invest in this innovation.”
The independent family brewer dates back to 1680, according to the Royal Swinkels website, and advertises innovation and sustainability as part of its ethos. The technology itself was developed by researchers and students at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, after the university's student team SOLID showed that it was possible to combust iron fuel in the lab two years ago.
“The beauty of iron fuel is that you can release the energy stored in iron fuel when and where you need it,” said Philip de Goey, Professor of Combustion Technology at TU Eindhoven, in a statement. “If you grind iron into a powder, it becomes highly flammable and this combustion releases a lot of energy in the form of heat. This heat can meet the industry’s energy demand.”
But several prominent publications have noted that there are still unanswered questions about how "metal fuels" such as iron behave during the combustion process. At the same time, thanks to the Law of Conservation of Energy (which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, merely transferred), the process isn’t without byproducts. Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) is released at such high temperatures, reported De Ingeniur, as well as other particulates. And in order not to generate large amounts of carbon dioxide, the process also requires high-energy electrolysis technology that is yet to be developed — and it’s not clear what the cost will be.
“While we’re proud of this huge milestone, we also look at the future,” Chan Botter, who leads a student team dedicated to the advancement of metal fuels at TU Eindhoven, said in a statement. “There’s already a follow-up project which aims to realize a 1 MW system in which we also work on the technical improvement of the system. We’re also making plans for a 10 MW system that should be ready in 2024. Our ambition is to convert the first coal-fired power plants into sustainable iron fuel plants by 2030.”
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