Building Blocks for the Future We Need

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Baseload, baseload, baseload is the cry of our FFF (Fossil Fuel Funded) politicians. This new product from the University of Newcastle might be the answer. Australian innovators have developed an energy-absorbing block that can scale up to replace coal in existing thermal power stations. Aging power stations can be kept in service longer, saving costs for power generators and their customers.

MGA, or Miscibility Gap Alloys, are capable of storing a huge amount of energy as heat. They are 10–100 times more conductive than other currently available materials. Heated by intermittent renewables, they can provide baseload electricity to the grid. 

energy storage thermal MGA
Why kill off old coal power plants when you can repurposed them as super-duper energy storage systems (photo via University of Newcastle depicts MGA Thermal bricks).

The blocks are stackable and made from recycled materials. Works like LEGOs — add as many as you need. It is estimated that they can provide energy for a quarter of the cost of lithium batteries. MGA blocks can store energy for up to a week. This means they can provide dispatchable power over night when Australia’s abundant sunshine is not available.

The technology is currently being trialed in retired power stations in Europe. MGA has a slower response time than batteries, and so would need to be teamed with other storage solutions for the best provision of power. This is another example of not this or that, but all solutions working best together.

A recent capital raise of $8 million (led by the CSIRO) will enable the company to scale up production and expand internationally. MGA is expecting to produce hundreds of thousands of thermal blocks each month. 

See how they are made: 

Erich Kisi and Alexander Post of the University of Newcastle describe the blocks like cake:

“Think of a block as like a choc-chip muffin heated in a microwave. The muffin consists of a cake component, which holds everything in shape when heated, and the choc chips, which melt.”

LEGO blocks? Muffins? Cake? You might be tempted to not take MGA seriously. But it’s not a game, it’s a potential game changer.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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