Did you know that in microgravity we are preparing one of the most promising fuels for the future?
Microgravity is helping to find answers and patterns to improve the processes needed to burn solid fuel like iron dust efficiently. Are we seeing the rise of a new “Iron Age”? Can we use metal powders instead of oil to power our cars?
Solid fuels are used to burn a match to ignite a glow on New Year’s Eve, as well as fuel inside the promoters of Arian and other rockets. But metals like iron can also be burned, in powder form, and are completely smoke-free and carbon-free.
Metals could be formed using clean energy, such as from solar cells or wind turbines. Electricity is stored as chemical energy in metal dust at energy densities that are competitive with fossil fuels. This has the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, but one obstacle to implementing this technology is the development of combustion systems that can efficiently burn metal fuels, which requires a good understanding of the physics of their combustion.
To understand the physics of combustion of metal fuels, the iron powder set must be discontinued for about 30 seconds, the time required to observe and study how the flame spreads. The researchers used sound rockets and parabolic flights to perform weightlessness experiments and validate existing models, yielding promising results.
The density of iron particles and the composition of the gases in the combustion chamber are key parameters, as in the engine of a gasoline car. Microgravity allows the study of flame propagation laws to optimize parameters in industrial burner designs and reduce their impact on the environment.
These space experiments help us understand similar phenomena, such as the spread of contaminating microbes and forest fires.
In a vote of confidence in the technique, a group of students from TU Eindhoven in the Netherlands collaborated with industry partners to design a metal combustion plant installed at Swinkels Family Brewers, funded by the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant, to produce steam. beer process.