Philip de Goey receives ERC Proof of Concept Grant for research into metal fuels

May 5, 2023

The sun shines mostly in the summer, but the industry also needs this sustainable energy in the winter when the sun is not shining and there is hardly any wind. Philip de Goey, Professor of Combustion Technology in the Power & Flow section within the department of Mechanical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology, sees a solution in burning iron powder. For his research to investigate the combustion of metal fuels, he has been awarded an ERC Proof of Concept Grant by the European Research Council.

A grant from the ERC is the most prestigious grant in Europe for researchers. Typically, the top 20% of researchers apply for this and 10 - 20% of them receive such a grant. In 2020 De Goey received an ERC Advanced Grant (2.5 million euros) for MetalFuel on which 6 researchers (PhD/PD) are working to use new science regarding the combustion of metals.

Storage of sustainable energy

De Goey is one of the founders of the concept of using iron as a medium for large-scale long-term storage of sustainable energy. The sun shines mostly in the summer, but the industry also needs this sustainable energy when there is no wind or sun. This can be done by burning iron powder in the winter, for example in a refurbished coal-fired power plant or biomass plant or to generate energy for industry. The rust powder produced is transported to a place where there is a lot of sun/wind and formed back into iron powder by reacting it with green hydrogen produced from that solar or wind energy.

This creates a cyclic fuel that can be used again and again, no CO2, little nitrogen oxide emission, safe, very compact and also  cost competitive. This is complementary to the roll-out of green hydrogen and also supports that roll-out, because this energy can be stored longer, more easily, more compactly and more safely. This will have a huge impact and form solutions for the energy crisis, climate crisis, nitrogen crisis and can give the economy in NL an enormous boost.

This grant is the core of the world's leading research group in the field of Iron Power within the department, which now employs several staff members (professors, etc.) with many PhD students and students.

New combustion technique

In the MetalFuel project ICONIC, a new combustion technique will be developed with which the flame burns more stably without a pilot flame, with even less nitrogen oxide formation and while no fine dust is produced. Existing techniques have major problems with one or more of these matters: either particulate matter, NOx or unstable combustion. These problems will be solved by ICONIC.

In the ERC PoC grant, this last idea is further developed into a first product (a patent has already been applied for) that can be tested into a new combustion concept and made ready to be taken up by the industry. This is again a very prestigious grant, although the amount is not that large (150k). It's more about the honor and the recognition than the money.

Iron Power ecosystem

The ecosystem around Iron Power is growing worldwide, in which TU/e together with Metalot (an innovation center that De Goey founded to support the Iron Power ecosystem) and the start-ups RIFT and IRON+ are taking the lead. The rest of the world is following this idea now with a fast growing community, a lot of research starting up everywhere, and start-ups being founded all over the world.

Read more about the ERC Advanced Grant:

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the 66 winners of its Proof of Concept Grant scheme. Worth €150 000 each, their grants will be used to explore the commercial or societal potential of the results of their research projects. This funding is part of the EU's research and innovation program, Horizon Europe.

Rianne Sanders
(Communications Advisor ME/EE)