Thermo-chemical energy: Uni Newcastle unveils challenge to solar + storage

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Uni Newcastle and Infratech unveil thermo-chemical competitor to rooftop solar and battery storage – apparently able to produce heat, hot water and 24-hour power.

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A new competitor has entered the distributed generation market and is taking on solar and battery storage with a twist on cogeneration technology that can produce heat, hot water and 24-hour power – as well as oxygen and hydrogen.

Co-developed by the University of Newcastle and Infratech Industries – a company also known for its floating solar technology – the so-called Energy On Demand system was unveiled on Thursday, with the official inauguration of a 30kW commercial demonstration plant at the University’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER).

InfratechCLES2

The technology is initially targeting commercial and industrial users, but also has designs on the residential space.

As the video below explains, the scaleable technology – which has been backed by a CSIRO grant – uses thermo-chemical energy, via a “naturally occurring particle mixture” that is stored in replaceable cartridges.

We weren’t able to get to the bottom of what exactly this particle mixture is made up of, but Infratech says it is not harmful to the environment and, once spent, leaves behind a sort of non-toxic dust.

Using a University of Newcastle patented process called CLAS (Chemical Looping Air Separation), air is passed through the particle mixture to generate heat, which then spins a turbine, which in turn generates power.

The kicker, says Infratech CEO Rajesh Nellore, is that as well as generating power the system can generate potential revenue streams for users by creating hydrogen and oxygen as saleable byproducts.

InfratechCLES3

This would be ideal, the company suggests, for medical therapy customers where respiratory diseases are treated with oxygen. It could also contribute to a hydrogen network for fuel cell cars in the future. Systems can run off-grid, or on, and range in capacity from 15kW to 1000kW.

And while Infratech has not yet got to costing the systems, Nellore believes that given the associated revenue generating possibilities, and savings from avoided heating and cooling costs, Energy On Demand could offer a customers a faster return on investment than solar and battery storage – perhaps even in the ballpark of a couple of years.

Another advantage, is that the system can supply 24-hour power without the need for storage, although in this mode it needs an external heat source to maintain reactions within the particle mixture. According to Dr Nellore, this can be supplied either by natural gas, electricity from renewable energy sources, by the system itself, or any combination thereof.

infratechCLES1

The system at the University of Newcastle uses gas, which project leader Behdad Moghtaderi describes as the most reliable source for the required temperature balancing.

“(The CLES system) features a number of unique characteristics which make it distinct,” said Professor Moghtaderi, whose own invention is at the core of the technology, which is patented by the University of Newcastle.

“It’s a poly-generation process capable of simultaneous production of heat, power, oxygen, hot water and chilled water for air-conditioning. As a result, the overall efficiency of the process is in excess of 90 per cent.”

Another feature of the system – and one that may appeal to governments seeking to address security of supply issues – is that it can also run for pre-defined hours at a time, such as during peak power periods.

According to Infratech, it can also be programmed to produce only power and oxygen, or a combination of both along with heating, cooling, hot water and hydrogen.

“The application of this technology can meet the needs of both developed and developing economies,” said Infratech’s Nellore. “It’s a step-change in technology from what is currently available.”

As for the demonstration plant, that is set to be shipped to a permanent customer site in Australia, which will be chosen from “a pool of interested companies.” We’ll keep you posted.

Nellore told RenewEconomy on Wednesday that the 30kW system could meet the energy needs of a housing development with 30-40 residences, or a “small hospital.”

InfratechCLES_EnergyonDemand_Residential_artists impression copy

Production of smaller units for installation at individual homes – roughly the size of a fridge, and resembling the artist’s rendering above – was about 18 months away, he said.

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20 Comments
  1. George Michaelson 2 years ago

    Is this a giant iron-filings engine? Those hand-warmers you can buy for hiking have a weak alkalai/salt paste in a barrier, with iron. you crush the mix and it’s exothermic. This thing sounds like its an industrial-scale air-blown version of some kind of simple chemistry. To leave non-toxic ‘dust’ its got to be taking something in the reduction/oxidation cycle which isn’t bad for people. I’m going to iron or an iron complex. If water is a byproduct then its extracting hydrogen from the air, binding to the oxygen in the rust and emitting water+(once was latent, not actual) heat energy.

    I’m also going to iron because (a) newcastle (b) iron ore of low quality (c) lots of left over dross from high quality iron-export (d) opportunistic profit making from waste (e) seawater… (f) activated charcoal sounds like coal to me == hunter valley

    this is not a reversible operation. Its using stuff once.

    • Stephen Norris 2 years ago

      Whatever it is, if it’s not nuclear, it’s not “generating” energy, at best it’s storing it from some earlier time. The iron-filings example requires someone to have spent a lot of energy reducing the iron ore to iron so it can be oxidised again.

      They say the particles are naturally occurring, though, so whatever it is it must be something that’s stable under room-temperature conditions but they’re reacting it with something else to liberate oxygen (and hydrogen?) and heat and electricity?

      • George Michaelson 2 years ago

        Yes, thats why I went to iron. we have a lot of it lying around, and people keep shifting it via trains in newcastle. Its not pure iron, its iron+something, and I hazard that time, and a lot of it, embedded that latent energy into the iron+something, making it available to be released.

    • trackdaze 2 years ago

      Maybe. Though on the question of toxicity in my opinion everything is toxic its just the dosage that important. Particularly so for a dust.

    • Steve 2 years ago

      Maybe Fe2O3 and Aluminium, ground into dust? I know this is a big exothermic reaction. Of course creating the Aluminium filings in the first place takes a lot of energy.

      • Andy Saunders 2 years ago

        Umm, don’t do that. That’s a well-known mixture called the thermite reaction, which generates up to 2500 degrees C.

        The article is clearly intended for publication a few days earlier.

    • Ian 2 years ago

      No it clearly talks about replaceable cartridges, this machine must be recycling printer cartridges creating oxygen, hydrogen, heat, air-conditioning, electricity – you name it.

  2. Stephen Norris 2 years ago

    Here’s the patent: http://pericles.ipaustralia.gov.au/ols/auspat/applicationDetails.do?applicationNo=2012313348

    The description refers to it as Low-Emissions Coal Technology aka clean coal.

    • Craig Allen 2 years ago

      From that patent:
      “This invention relates to a method and apparatus for integrated chemical looping air separation in large-scale oxy-fuel plants and has been devised particularly though not solely for use in large coal-fired power generating plants.”

      So this can challenge solar+battery only if you don’t care about CO2 emissions.

      • Askgerbil Now 2 years ago

        University of Newcastle investigated this chemical process for cutting the cost of oxygen separation for oxy-fuel coal combustion.
        The ANU researches the same chemical process for thermal energy storage for concentrated solar thermal power stations: http://stg.anu.edu.au/research/storage/manganese-oxide.php

        How the chemical process is used in different applications is up to the designer.
        Heat energy stores may just heat up a substance without any phase change, like graphite blocks.
        Another may make use of a phase change, like a salt that melts and solidifies to store and release latent heat at a constant temperature.
        Another type makes use of a reversible chemical reaction, such as decomposing and reforming ammonia into/from nitrogen and hydrogen.
        This invention is another example of the third type of heat energy store. The powder it uses is an oxide that decomposes at a useful and readily achievable high temperature, absorbing this heat energy when oxygen is released, and releasing heat energy when the oxide is recreated.

  3. Dissenter 2 years ago

    Interesting.

  4. Dave Keenan 2 years ago

    Clearly this was intended for publication on the1st of April.

  5. Finn Peacock 2 years ago

    Doesn’t pass the sniff test.

    • Jo 2 years ago

      smells like coal

  6. George Darroch 2 years ago

    Coal? Coal.

  7. Renew_Guru 2 years ago

    Looks interesting BUT they failed to mention if it is a 100 % Renewable Energy source. What is the source of energy that goes into producing this “chemical mix ” ? If the chemicals are not produced with 100% Renewable Energy then it is NOT a challenge to Solar or Wind. Also, the production of Hydrogen and Oxygen takes a lot of energy so where does this come from ? It appears to be a “by product” that can be sold. If you have so much Oxygen and Hydrogen, why not use it in a fuel cell to produce power, heating and hot water. The energy balance doesn’t make sense to me. Lets see if they provide any more information about its level of Sustainability but as always, all new technology should be evaluated and measured to see if it is a candidate to be part of the new Post Carbon Economy.

    Have a Sustainable Day . . .

  8. Andrew_Nichols 2 years ago

    “naturally occurring particle mixture” WTF? ??? Coal? I’m always suss when it comes to Waffly “science”

  9. Alastair Leith 2 years ago

    where’s the “video below”? April fools budget didn’t extend that far?

  10. Robert B. Wise 2 years ago

    What kind of “demonstration” relies on a secret fuel? Sounds like the proverbial Pig in a Poke.

  11. Robyn Handreck 10 months ago

    According to this https://group2i.com/energy-on-demand/ it runs on natural gas. So no, it’s not renewable, but it isn’t coal and it does multitask.
    “The Infratech™CLES process runs on natural gas for temperature balancing, which is the most reliable utility in many parts of the world, releasing only a third of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of fossil fuels and no intermittency compared with renewable energy sources.”
    I can hear the LNP crowing already regarding its non-intermittency…
    More here https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/Event/infratech-chemical-looping-energy-demand-system This article says it can run on solar energy and also function as a battery for solar storage, so the gas use could be reduced substantially if panels were linked to it.

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