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Dutch students use iron balls for the safe storage and transport of hydrogen

Vegetable hydrogen will almost certainly play one main role in the energy transition, but brings with it a number of inherent challenges. It is highly flammable and must be stored at high pressure or cryogenic temperatures, making hydrogen storage and transport complex and expensive.

A student team from Eindhoven University of Technology called FIRMtries to solve this problem by using small iron balls (iron pellets) as hydrogen energy carriers.

To achieve this, the team has developed a steam ironing process. When iron is exposed to a stream of hot, high-pressure steam, it reacts with the water molecules to produce hydrogen and iron oxide, also known as rust. Hydrogen can then be extracted to be used as an energy source, while the remaining rust can be regenerated into iron by the addition of hydrogen. In this way, iron acts as a circular carrier of hydrogen.

The fact that iron is stored and transported instead of hydrogen has numerous advantages, according to the students.

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First, iron has a higher energy density and can store about three times more energy per volume compared to pressurized hydrogen. In addition, iron pellets can be stored and transported in a safer and more compact way, minimizing logistical challenges.

“Iron is also one of the most abundant elements on earth, so our technology could offer a cheaper alternative for large-scale storage and distribution of hydrogen in the future.” said Timme Ter Horst, manager at SOLID.

In collaboration with its partners, the student team has built a pilot installation, the Steam Iron Reactor One (SIR One), to explore and demonstrate the potential of the technology.

In the coming period, the students will use the reactor to improve the efficiency of the process and extend the life of the pellets. They also plan to scale up the current system to SIR Two, which will have a capacity 15 times greater than SIR One at 500 kWh.

The goal is to realize a demo in the port of Rotterdam in 2027 and to demonstrate the technology on an industrial scale for relevant end users.

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