Coal-fired power stations could be given a second life

The University of Newcastle has patented a thermal storage material that is set to be commercialised and used as an alternative energy source for coal-fired power stations.

Energy generated by renewables can be stored in blocks cheaply and safely as thermal energy, which can then be used as an alternative to burning coal for steam turbines and power stations.

The 20-centimetre-long, 16-centimetre-high miscibility gaps alloy (MGA) blocks are stackable and can be retrofitted to retired and existing power plants, which could effectively power up old coal-fired power stations.

“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,” University of Newcastle materials scientist and lead researcher Erich Kisi 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. 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.”

Kisi and his team have founded MGA Thermal to commercialise the MGA block technology which is licensed by the university.

The MGA Thermal team has received close to $1 million in combined funding from CP Ventures and Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s accelerating commercialisation grant, and has now established a local manufacturing plant to produce and commercialise the modular blocks.

“There’s potential for a whole new local industry, manufacturing high value thermal storage material for renewable energy projects,” Kisi said.

“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.”

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