Sep 09, 2020

Thermal blocks may help convert coal-fired plants

Thermal blocks may help convert coal-fired plants Chief technology officer Alex Post and Professor Eric Kisi from MGA Thermal with a thermal storage block.

A new type of thermal storage material, housed in blocks, could see coal-fired power stations converted to run entirely fossil-fuel free, according to the University of Newcastle.

Patented by the university, the Miscibility Gaps Alloy (MGA) blocks are capable of receiving energy generated by renewables and storing it as thermal energy.

Work is underway to enable the blocks to be retrofitted to retired power plants or introduced to existing power plants.

University of Newcastle materials scientist and lead researcher Professor Erich Kisi said people often likened the MGA blocks to a battery – however they were far cheaper, safer, lasted much longer and were more scalable than a battery.

He said the innovation enabled renewable energy to be used as reliable baseload power – providing a sought-after solution to transition from fossil fuels to renewable technology whilst maintaining existing infrastructure and associated workforces.

“We’re aiming to bridge the gap between cheap and abundant renewable energy, which is generated in peaks, and the ability to store and dispatch energy at any time of day or night, to meet consumer needs.,” he said.

“Unlike coal-fired power, which is regulated and controlled, renewable energy is a challenge because it is less predictable and inconsistent.

“The grid, which includes the poles and wires you see on streets connecting to houses and buildings, was not designed to receive large spikes associated with renewable energy.

“Redesigning the whole grid is simply too expensive so we’ve created MGA as an energy storage solution to marry with existing infrastructure.”

With close to $1 million funding from CP Ventures and a Department of Industry, Innovation and Science grant, the MGA Thermal team are establishing a NSW-based manufacturing plant to scale production of their modular blocks to commercial levels.

MGA Thermal has also partnered with Swiss company, E2S Power AG, to design a technology to retrofit and repurpose retired and active coal-fired plants in Europe using MGA blocks.  

“The cost of decommissioning a power plant is incredibly high, so their life-cycle management is a huge challenge. MGA blocks are an opportunity to re-deploy retired or stranded plants, turning a liability into a high value asset,” Professor Kisi said.

Professor Kisi and his team have established spin-out company MGA Thermal to continue to commercialise their MGA block technology.