Recyclable metal fuels for clean and compact zero-carbon power


Metal fuels, as recyclable carriers of clean energy, are promising alternatives to fossil fuels in a future low-carbon economy. Fossil fuels are a convenient and widely-available source of stored solar energy that have enabled our modern society; however, fossil-fuel production cannot perpetually keep up with increasing energy demand, while carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion cause climate change. Low-carbon energy carriers, with high energy density, are needed to replace the multiple indispensable roles of fossil fuels, including for electrical and thermal power generation, for powering transportation fleets, and for global energy trade. Metals have high energy densities and metals are, therefore, fuels within many batteries, energetic materials, and propellants. Metal fuels can be burned with air or reacted with water to release their chemical energy at a range of power-generation scales. The metal-oxide combustion products are solids that can be captured and then be recycled using zero-carbon electrolysis processes powered by clean energy, enabling metals to be used as recyclable zero-carbon solar fuels or electrofuels. A key technological barrier to the increased use of metal fuels is the current lack of clean and efficient combustor/reactor/engine technologies to convert the chemical energy in metal fuels into motive or electrical power (energy). This paper overviews the concept of low-carbon metal fuels and summarizes the current state of our knowledge regarding the reaction of metal fuels with water, to produce hot hydrogen on demand, and the combustion of metal fuels with air in laminar and turbulent flames. Many important questions regarding metal-fuel combustion processes remain unanswered, as do questions concerning the energy-cycle efficiency and life-cycle environmental impacts and economics of metals as recyclable fuels. Metal fuels can be an important technology option within a future low-carbon society and deserve focused attention to address these open questions.

Related subjects: Applications & Pathways
Countries: Canada

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