METAL – THE NEXT BIG FUEL?

According to a new report from researchers at McGill University, powdered metal fuels could be an effective replacement for the fossil fuels we currently rely on: coal, oil and natural gas. As well as providing an alternative energy source, powdered metals would significantly slash carbon emissions and environmental damage.

Not only do grains of powdered metal contain more energy per liter than any conventional fuel, but the fuel may be recyclable in some cases. By grinding the metal, the ratio between the surface area and volume of the grains is vastly increased – making a ‘better’ burning product.

However, it is important to note that the powder would not be a primary energy source like petroleum, but rather a storage medium for energy sources such as nuclear or hydroelectric power.

Whilst this technology may seem promising, there are considerable downsides in that: this method is currently not cost-competitive, and the investment in heavy mining equipment to obtain these metals would likely off-set any carbon saved in the actual burning of the metal. Additionally, developments in battery capacity and efficiency still lag behind, making it difficult for powdered metals to be used effectively as an alternative fuel source.

Despite this, the rapid pace of development and modern technology may mean that we see powdered metal as a viable energy alternative in the not-so-distant future!

Image: Stabilized flames of different metal powders burning with air, compared to a methane-air flame (Credit: Alternative Fuels Laboratory/McGill University)