NEWCASTLE: A team of engineers at Australia's University of Newcastle has patented a material designed to store thermal energy in the form of a block, which its inventors hope can be used to ease the transition away from coal-fired power.
Known as Miscibility Gaps Alloy (MGA), the bricks, made from aluminium and graphite, store energy generated from renewable sources, with the research predicting they can last about 30 years without any change in reliability.
Co-inventor of the thermal block, Erich Kisi, said his team were working on thermionic converters, which create power through heat, when they had the breakthrough idea to move into energy storage.
"The (most important) ingredients for the bricks are the aluminium particles which provide the latent heat, that melting energy that we're talking about," Kisi said.
"So they will melt and solidify many thousands of times during the life of the block, but remain in position. They are held in position by graphite, in this case, we have other systems but graphite is the main body."
Each brick weighs about 6kg and contains stored thermal energy of about 1kwh. Kisi declined to state the projected price of each block.
Kisi is now CEO of MGA Thermal, the company manufacturing these blocks, which is partnering with Switzerland's E2S Power AG to use them as part of design technology to retrofit and repurpose coal-fired plants in Europe.
The group hopes to smooth the transition away from coal-fired power by building out thermal energy storage while gradually decommissioning boilers in a power station.
"That allows these assets that are currently worth billions of dollars but will be worth nothing in five years' time, to be repurposed," Kisi said.
"There needs to be transition in the thinking of governments away from short-term matters, such as elections and thinking about the long haul. We're all in it together."