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Startup develops thermal battery hotter than boiling steel that could revolutionize energy sector: 'There's nothing that'll burn out'

"I have no doubt that this is going to go commercial."

"I have no doubt that this is going to go commercial."

Photo Credit: iStock

The brilliant team of engineers, scientists, and bricklayers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff company Electrified Thermal Solutions — a renewable energy startup — is on a mission to decarbonize heavy industries with its groundbreaking invention, the Joule Hive. 

The massive thermal battery could provide low-cost electrified heat to power industries that make modern life possible, such as steel, cement, glass, chemicals, and food manufacturing, as Daniel Stack, the CEO and co-founder of the company, told Inside Climate News

After nearly a decade of working on the technology at MIT labs, the team cracked the formula for how to use firebricks — blocks of ceramic material often used in industrial furnaces and kilns and home fireplaces — to conduct electricity. 

By tweaking the recipe of the metal oxides used to make firebricks, Stack and ETS co-founder Joey Kabel created bricks that could convert electricity into heat. They are capable of reaching temperatures of nearly a searing 3,275 degrees Fahrenheit — much hotter than even the melting point of steel at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, as ICN reported

"There's no exotic metals in here, there's nothing that'll burn out," Stack told the outlet, standing next to shelves of brick samples that the company has tested to determine which ones generate the most heat. 

The team stacks these electrically conductive firebricks in the Joule Hive, an insulated metal container that acts as a thermal battery, storing the heat generated from the bricks for days. According to ETS, "then the system is discharged by running air or another gas through the brick channels to provide heat to any furnace, boiler, turbine, or kiln."

Since firebricks are one of the oldest and cheapest materials for industrial processes, the team believes they have huge potential to replace the polluting fuels that currently power most heavy industries. 

As the Environmental Protection Agency noted, the industrial sector produces nearly a quarter of all direct pollution in the United States, which is one of the key factors driving our overheating planet and more extreme weather. However, thermal batteries like the Joule Hive — powered by renewable energy — could slash pollution generated by heavy industry in half, according to ICN, citing a 2023 Center for Climate and Energy Solutions report.

Because of the incredible heat the electrified firebricks can generate, the Hive is also a cost-effective solution for powering heavy industries. As ETS stated on its website, these high temperatures correspond to "unprecedented energy density," allowing for the thermal energy to be stored with at least 95% efficiency. 

That could make the cost of decarbonizing industries equal to or even cheaper than the cost of running them on oil and gas, meaning companies could continue their operations sustainably, and humans and wildlife could enjoy better health without breathing in toxic pollution. It's a triple win for companies, the planet, and all life that inhabits it. 

"I have no doubt that this is going to go commercial," Charles Forsberg, MIT nuclear engineering research scientist and an advisor to ETS, along with a patent holder of its technology, told ICN.  

Earlier this year, ETS received $5 million in funding from the Department of Energy to build and operate its first commercial-scale demonstration of the Joule Hive thermal battery (JHTB) at San Antonio's Southwest Research Institute, the outlet reported. 

According to an ETS press release, a portion of the grant will be used to incorporate the JHTBs into operations with industry partners 3M, Buzzi Unicem, and Amy's Kitchen.

"Now, with the DOE behind us and a world class partnership consortium, we will demonstrate that ETS's Joule Hive Thermal Battery can durably deliver clean heat at temperatures hot enough for any industrial process," Stack said in the release

With companies worldwide working to slash pollution from the steel and aluminum industries with green hydrogen and other renewable energies, and the Biden administration supporting these efforts with a $250 million investment, the future looks greener than ever.

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