Study points to metal powders as potential replacement for fossil fuels

Posted: December 13, 2015 by oldbrew in Energy, innovation, research

Could fireworks technology replace fossil fuels?  [image credit: boston.com]

Could fireworks technology replace fossil fuels?
[image credit: boston.com]


Cynics may suspect a well-timed bid for a headline, but this story just happened to turn up at phys.org this week. There are sure to be snags – aren’t there?

Can you imagine a future where your car is fueled by iron powder instead of gasoline?

Metal powders, produced using clean primary energy sources, could provide a more viable long-term replacement for fossil fuels than other widely discussed alternatives, such as hydrogen, biofuels or batteries, according to a study in the Dec. 15 issue of the journal Applied Energy.


“Technologies to generate clean electricity – primarily solar and wind power – are being developed rapidly; but we can’t use that electricity for many of the things that oil and gas are used for today, such as transportation and global energy trade,” notes McGill University professor Jeffrey Bergthorson, lead author of the new study.

“Biofuels can be part of the solution, but won’t be able to satisfy all the demand; hydrogen requires big, heavy fuel tanks and is explosive, and batteries are too bulky and don’t store enough energy for many applications,” says Bergthorson, a mechanical engineering professor and Associate Director of the Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design at McGill.

“Using metal powders as recyclable fuels that store clean primary energy for later use is a very promising alternative solution.”

The idea of burning metal powders is nothing new – they’ve been used for centuries in fireworks, for instance. Since the mid-20th century, they’ve also been used in rocket propellants, such as the space shuttle’s solid-fuel booster rockets. But relatively little research has been done in recent decades on the properties of metal flames, and the potential for metal powders to be used as a recyclable fuel in a wide range of applications has been largely overlooked by scientists.

Full report with more tech info: Study points to metal powders as potential replacement for fossil fuels

Comments
  1. michael hart says:

    The energy/weight densities are of course well known and have been for ages (Iron is hardly a good choice. Aluminium is much better while not possessing the fire hazards of, say lithium.) The problem remains that they are solid, not fluid. And so are the reaction end products (probably oxides or hydroxides, depending on what process is used to liberate and capture the energy. And then they have to be recycled. The problems go on and on. It makes about as much sense as windmills.

    Trees and cornfields recycle CO2 and H2O for free, and look beautiful too.

    These sort of technical problems are airily dismissed by ignorant greens, but are none of them trivial. The advances will have to be huge before it can become economically comparable to hydrocarbons. It’s another case of physicists and chemists will re-investigate failed ideas again if someone is willing to pay them and there is no funding for other projects, but don’t expect miracles any time soon. Meanwhile, we are best off continuing with existing technology.

  2. oldbrew says:

    Here’s one problem for new technologies i.e. scale:
    ‘EIA estimates global consumption of petroleum and other liquids grew by 1.2 million b/d in 2014, averaging 92.4 million b/d for the year. EIA expects global consumption of petroleum and other liquids to grow by 1.4 million b/d in both 2015 and 2016.’ (b/d = barrels per day)

    http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/report/global_oil.cfm

  3. Graeme No.3 says:

    Grind element No.6 finely and slurry it (47-48%) in water with a small amount of wetting agent, and a trifle of fuel oil to start ignition. Burns nicely as a liquid fuel (in boilers, ram jets etc.) to harmless gases. Can be pumped for many miles. Proven technology.

  4. jim says:

    But, aren’t you just recreating another fuel consumption? Not any cheaper, not more portable, and not to the least common denominator or user. All fuels use something, a catalyst, to produce something usable. Work. The greens, forgot the logical endpoint of pollution research. Fewer greens. By telling their ” half truth” and limiting research into power generation, and alternative energy sources for a quick buck, they hide away the real prize of long term cheap power generation.
    I keep wondering ” was Edison wrong?”

  5. p.g.sharrow says:

    Just because you CAN do something, does not mean you SHOULD.
    The creation of metal powders for liquid fuel is a foolish waste of energy and money. Liquid hydrocarbon fuels are the best solution for transportation. All others have serious engineering drawbacks. 100 years of innovation and use have proven this fact. Liquid Hydrocarbons can be created and used with the least amount of energy waste along the way. Why fix something that isn’t broken and works well. And the pollution problems this would cause are much larger. Powdered metals and Hydrogen seem to be best suited for LENR energy creation.

    Why is it that “educated” people dream up these stupid solutions for non-existent problems…pg

  6. bobj62 says:

    P.G. has it right. A tank of hydrocarbon fuel weighs in at ~50 kg. The equivalent energy in iron powder is 330 kg (plus lugging around the product oxide totaling 475 kg). Makes riding around with a big Pb-acid battery look good. Assuming it could be done safely with aluminum powder (rocket fuel) it would still weigh in at 80 kg to start and 150 to be removed after use (this would go to land fill because it is so un-economical to reduce back to metal).

    Prof. Bergthorson: Come on, man!

  7. catweazle666 says:

    “Why is it that “educated” people dream up these stupid solutions for non-existent problems…pg”

    Even “educated” people have to earn a living, who else would employ them if not “research” institutions?

    Face it, they’d probably have difficulty finding really useful employment out inn the real world such as stacking shelves or tossing burgers.

  8. tchannon says:

    pgs, as someone remarked, buy a decent capacity battery, charge it, works a treat for backpacking, use a solar panel… loads of want-one people start sniffing but this is not a good solution, doesn’t work, costs.

  9. Graeme No.3 says: December 14, 2015 at 11:12 am

    “Grind element No.6 finely and slurry it (47-48%) in water with a small amount of wetting agent, and a trifle of fuel oil to start ignition. Burns nicely as a liquid fuel (in boilers, ram jets etc.) to harmless gases. Can be pumped for many miles. Proven technology.:”

    Add some CH4 as a gas, add forced atmospheric convection to get temperature way high! You get enough extra power to clean out “all” the bad junk, and get some fancy smancy metal powders! Why has no one ever thought of this?

  10. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Will, Good idea! Not sure how much net energy you would get out but at least you would not be wasting the valuable metal powders. 8-)…pg

  11. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Graeme No.3, does element number 6 count as a metal? ;-)…pg

  12. Graeme No.3 says:

    Just tell them it is – they know nothing but are terribly gullible.

  13. p.g.sharrow says: December 15, 2015 at 4:46 am

    “@Will, Good idea! Not sure how much net energy you would get out but at least you would not be wasting the valuable metal powders. 8-)…pg”

    Some gook stuff added to the slurry could likely sink, float, or electro-deposit; the good stuff, before further oxidation. Also could give some out of work climate statistician, a useful job doing cost benefit analysis of where/when/how to do what!😉 Soybean processing and petrochemical process control come to mind, but we still need lotsa green paint!

  14. ivan says:

    oldbrew, did you look at the comments of the brainwashed on that article. You can almost tell the age of the commentator from their comments and these are supposed to be the ones with more than two brain cells that work.

  15. dscott says:

    add forced atmospheric convection to get temperature way high! You get enough extra power to clean out “all” the bad junk,

    uhm, NO, you get high NOx emissions, you know like VW had to hide with software in their clean diesel engines.

  16. oldbrew says:

    ivan says: ‘oldbrew, did you look at the comments of the brainwashed on that article.’

    Life’s too short🙂

  17. Curious George says:

    Make metal, burn it, use the clean energy to make more metal, voila, all problems solved.

  18. Curious George says: December 15, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    “Make metal, burn it, use the clean energy to make more metal, voila, all problems solved.”

    One problem, Stupidity like Entropy, always increases! Can we use stupidity for fuel?

  19. tom0mason says:

    Will,
    Has this planet enough stupidity to burn some non-entropically ….
    🙂

  20. kwillshaw says:

    What a load of twaddle.

    The idea put forward by the McGill team takes advantage of an important property of metal powders: when burned, they react with air to form stable, nontoxic solid-oxide products that can be collected relatively easily for recycling

    Tosh Squared

    The combustion products from burning iron require processing in a blast furnace to turn them back into iron. This furnace is heated using coke (essentially pure carbon) which also absorbs the O2 in the iron oxide and emits its as CO2.

    Burning Aluminium produces aluminium oxide that requires vast amounts of electricity to turn it back into the metal. Such smelters are typically powered by either hydropower or coal. You would need to cover every square foot of the UK with wind farms to produce the amounts needed.

    Lots of luck designing the system to collect these airborne powders for recycling form a car exhaust pipe, nit that it matters as the engine would fail after about 5 minutes running.

    There is a pattern here of technical insanity, lets hope its not catching.

  21. I see it now; the first generation burns iron powder in their cars – strewing out ferric oxide from the exhaust. This is steadily rolled into the road surfaces by following vehicles. At some point the roads become sufficiently magnetised that a new generation of vehicles can be based on MagLev technology, ‘et voila!’ – problem solved!

  22. punmaster52 says:

    Philip Foster, by George, I think you’ve got it!

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