Quirks & Quarks

Alternative Energy Enters the Iron Age

Metals like iron can be used to store and transport renewable energy, and then burned to harvest that energy

Using metal to store and transport renewable energy

Burning metals (Alternative Fuels Lab, McGill University)
Iron and other metals could be the answer to the difficult problem of energy storage and transportation in a fossil-fuel-free future. While solar, wind and other renewables can generate energy effectively, it's difficult to store and transport electricity as easily as we can with oil, gas and coal.

But Dr. Jeff Bergthorson, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at McGill University, and his colleagues, think the answer could be metals. Electrical energy could be used to smelt ore into pure metal, effectively storing that energy chemically in the metal, the way energy is stored in a battery.

Then, to liberate the energy, the metals could be powdered and burned - reacted quickly with oxygen to form metal oxides, producing heat in much the way fossil fuels are burned. The metal oxides could then be recycled by using electricity to smelt them back into pure metal again.

Related Links

- Alternative Fuels Lab at McGill University
Paper in Applied Energy
- McGill University release
- IEEE Spectrum article
- RCI story