How this ‘Lego brick’ could make our power stations emissions-free

Coal-fired power stations could be converted to entirely fossil-fuel-free generators thanks to a solution developed by Australian engineers.

Sep 08, 2020, updated Sep 08, 2020
University of Newcastle scientists and co-founders of MGA Thermal, Dr Alex Post and Professor Erich Kisi.  (Photo: Supplied)

University of Newcastle scientists and co-founders of MGA Thermal, Dr Alex Post and Professor Erich Kisi. (Photo: Supplied)

The University of Newcastle has patented new thermal storage material housed in stackable blocks like Lego.

The blocks can store energy generated by renewables as thermal energy, which can be used to run steam turbines at power stations rather than burning coal.

Measuring 20cm x 30cm x 16cm, the blocks can be retrofitted to retired power plants or added to existing ones to help them move to renewables.

Lead researcher Professor Erich Kisi said the blocks provided a way to transition while maintaining existing infrastructure, rather than redesigning the electricity grid to cope with more renewables.

“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,” Kisi said.

A manufacturing plant is being set up in the NSW Hunter region for commercial production.

Kisi said the blocks were cheaper, safer, last longer and are more scalable than batteries.

“They are 10 per cent of the cost of a lithium battery of the same size, yet produce the same amount of energy,” he said.

The blocks can store millions of kilowatt-hours of energy are made of non-toxic, 100 per cent recyclable materials.

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The blocks are being tested on retired and existing coal-fired power plants in Europe.

Meanwhile, Australia’s energy retailers have launched a campaign to remind households and businesses help is available if they’re struggling with bills during the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian Energy Council chief Sarah McNamara said people could have a confidential discussion with their retailer.

“We recognise that not everyone may feel confident about doing that, so part of the motivation for this campaign is to say that a conversation with your retailer can help you to understand your options,” she said.

The campaign has been translated into 11 languages and will be spread through social media, local councils and community groups.


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