Bavaria brewery more sustainable thanks to TU Eindhoven’s metal fuel

Swinkels Family Brewers (formerly Bavaria NV) will use metal powder as a sustainable fuel to produce steam for their brewing process. They will do this with the help of an installation built by students and researchers of TU Eindhoven, engineering companies and Metalot. The system has been made possible by funding of 2.4 million euros, 1 million of which comes from the province of Noord- Brabant, and cooperation with various industrial parties. The installation should be operating by July this year.

Students and researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology have designed a system to make practical use of the energy that is released during the burning of metal, thereby tackling two major societal problems: storing energy and avoiding CO2 emissions. Just like material that consists of carbon (such as oil and coal), metal powder contains energy and can be burned. The residual product is not carbon dioxide (CO2), but metal oxide (in this case rust powder). The energy that is released can be used to generate steam, which in turn can drive steam turbines for electricity or power industrial processes. This is a circular process, because the rust powder is easy to capture and can be 'regenerated' into clean metal powder.

Iron powder as an ideal energy carrier

There is a great demand for new energy carriers. Solar and wind energy are not always available where, and when, needed. It is a shame to throw away the excess renewable energy, but the methods of storing energy are not always adequate. The choice of iron as an energy carrier has several advantages. Not only is it abundantly available on Earth and cheap, but it also has a high energy density, very suitable for transport, and also retains the stored energy almost permanently. Due to the high temperature at which the iron powder can be burned, it is also very suitable for use in industrial processes.

Circular process

Once the iron powder has been burned to rust powder, it must also be regenerated into clean iron powder. The steel industry has plenty of experience with that process. Making iron from iron ore is very similar to producing iron from rust powder.

From student project to more sustainable brewing

Following research into metal combustion in the research group of Philip de Goey, TU/e professor of combustion technology, an honors project was set up in 2016 for two applied physics students and one mechanical engineering student. The project focused on the heat generated by burning iron powder above a tea light candle. The following year, 19 students started developing the proof-of-concept, with a small energy installation running on iron powder, which started operating last year with the capacity of an average central heating boiler. The installation that will be installed at Swinkels Family Brewers will supply steam to Bavaria’s steam grid and generate 100 kW, the equivalent of 5 household boilers. The aim of this project is to demonstrate the potential of the installation, with a view to further research into the technology.

Swinkels Family Brewers wants to use this sustainable innovative technology to make their brewing process less dependent on fossil fuels. With the subsidy project of the province of Noord-Brabant and cooperation with 7 companies, 2 foundations and TU Eindhoven, the student team wants to show that its technology is a fully-fledged alternative for systems that are still running on gas.

Collaboration with industry

The engineering companies involved are contributing one million euros worth of full-time employees and three other companies are together contributing 350,000 euros in cash. Each company specializes in a different aspect of the demonstration system: EMGroup has experience in building specialized industrial burners, Romico specializes in dust collection and HeatPower in making so-called add-on Rankine Compression Gasturbines.