The missing block to build an all-renewable electric grid
A new type of thermal storage material, housed in blocks like LEGO, could see coal-fired power stations converted to run entirely fossil-fuel free.
Coined Miscibility Gaps Alloy (MGA), the extraordinary blocks are capable of receiving energy generated by renewables, storing it cheaply and safely as thermal energy, then using it to run steam turbines at power stations instead of burning coal.
Patented by the University of Newcastle, a team of engineers spent years perfecting the innovation to effectively and affordably store thermal energy. Their solution – 20 cm x 30 cm x 16 cm blocks – can be retrofitted to retired power plants or introduced to existing power plants to help them transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
Stackable like LEGO, MGA blocks can be added or removed to scale the system up or down to meet market demand.
University of Newcastle Materials Scientist and lead researcher, Professor Erich Kisi, 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.”
“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,” Professor Kisi said.
“Redesigning the whole grid is simply too expensive so we’ve created MGA as an energy storage solution to marry with existing infrastructure. We’ve made renewable energy compatible at grid-scale so that when the sun doesn’t shine or wind drops the grid still delivers power on-demand.”
With close to $1million combined funding from CP Ventures and an Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Accelerating Commercialisation Grant, the MGA Thermal team are establishing a NSW-based manufacturing plant to scale production of their modular blocks to commercial levels.
Professor Kisi said the manufacturing facility would immediately create several full-time jobs.
“There’s potential for a whole new local industry, manufacturing high value thermal storage material for renewable energy projects,” said Professor Kisi.
“Our location in the Hunter is ideal. The region has a background as a strong centre for industry and there’s great access to raw materials.”