Sat, Jun

Goodbye Oil & Gas - Hello Thermal Bricks


CLIMATE WATCH - The world of energy struggles with the nearly impossible task of getting off fossil fuels. This requires thinking outside of the box, something revolutionary bustling with energy that bails us out of sluggish fossil fuels that emit too much CO2 into the atmosphere and rapidly overheats the planet. The CO2/global warming relationship, joined at the hip, must come to an end, or it’ll self-destruct everything in sight.  

In the face of ultra-rapid technological developments, oil and gas production is old and dirty and slow and captures unbelievable sums money for few people by removing the remains of dead organisms found deep underground, i.e., oil. In a strange, twisted manner, this is biological money stolen from Earth. but that’s too deep of a subject for now. 

Instead, what if thermal bricks with zero CO2 content could convert electricity to 1,800°C (3,275°F) powerful enough to melt steel, no fossil fuels needed? And not only create heat for heavy industry but also store heat for days when the sun doesn’t shine. Sounds too good to be true. It’s a case that breaks that rule.

Abracadabra! meet Electrified Thermal Solutions (“ETS”) an MIT spinoff that has designed Joule Hive, a thermal battery the size of an elevator that’s featured in a writeup in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Can Electrically Conductive Bricks Replace Fossil Fuels? d/d May 27, 2024. (originally from Inside Climate News) 

Even more miraculous yet, ETS has perfected the technologically marvelous brick and contracted with a major industrial brick manufacturer, using ETS’s proprietary formula, to bring to market orders ranging from two tons of bricks to 2,000 tons of bricks, or more. In fact, ETS recently received its first multi-ton order for thermal bricks, no CO2 included. 


A Brick that Creates Industrial-Scale Heat 

ETS’s brick is a brilliant answer for the energy transition to convert electricity to high temperature heat that today is done by coal and natural gas to power heavy industry. Bring the bricks, remove the coal, turn off the natural gas. Brick technology is here to eliminate global warming’s biggest advocates, i.e., oil and gas and coal. 

Significantly, and this is big: With the Joule Hive Thermal Battery, for the first-time electricity can be used to drive a gas turbine. Interpretation: The world’s 1.8 Terawatts of existing natural gas power plants could be converted to grid-scale batteries to balance intermittent renewable generation. ETS intends to transform natural gas power plants into decarbonized batteries to enable a zero-carbon grid of the future. Here’s the bottom line: One trillion watts (one Terawatt) equals all the electricity from all US power plants, now targeted by thermal bricks that will boot CO2 out of the front gate of the industrial plant. 

The origin of thermal bricks came from Dan Stack and Joey Kabel, when Dan Stack as a grad student at MIT wondered out loud whether fire bricks like those commonly used in residential fireplaces could be used to store heat as well as create heat. Thereafter, altering the metal oxides within brick creation, wonderful things happen: (1) conduct electricity (2) generate heat (3) store heat. It’s remarkable and marketable and should become a hot new product, assuming success in the commercial market with a couple of high-profile adventurous first-time customers. 

According to Stack, “There’s no exotic metals in here, there’s nothing that’ll burn out.” 

Thanks to the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act -IRA-, the US Energy Department awarded ETS a $5 million grant to help build the first commercial-scale demo at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio: “The project will demonstrate how the thermal battery could provide high temperature heat for a number of industrial processes including cement manufacturing, which currently relies primarily on burning coal for heat.” (Bulletin)

“Massimo Toso, president and chief executive of Buzzi Unicem USA, one of the largest cement producers in the United States and an industrial partner with ETS on the Energy Department grant, praised the company’s thermal battery: ‘ETS’s Joule Hive Thermal Battery is the first industrial heat decarbonization solution we have identified that could potentially enable us to cost effectively and eliminate the use of fossil fuels in our heating processes,” Ibid.

This is a big step for decarbonization of heavy industry, which accounts for approximately one-fourth (1/4th) of direct greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. It’s believed thermal batteries (bricks) powered-up by renewable energy could reduce one-half of industry emissions. That’s a huge step in the right direction and groundbreaking for more rapid decarbonization of the economy. Indeed, if as successful as it appears, this is a giant leap forward towards getting off fossil fuels.

Another astute placement by the Biden administration was a $35 million grant to Ashland, a specialty chemical manufacturer in Wilmington, Delaware, a matching grant from the Energy Department for commercial deployment of ETS’s thermal batteries to be installed at Ashland’s ISP Chemicals Plant in Calvert City, Kentucky where large volumes of high temperature steam are needed to run its operations.

“The project would replace natural gas-fired boilers at the Calvert City plant with ETS’s thermal batteries. Air blown through the Joule Hive batteries would transfer flame-temperature heat to the boilers to generate steam. The project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with steam generation at the plant by nearly 70 percent, according to the Energy Department,” Ibid.  Ashland is currently evaluating the proposal.

This brings to the forefront the significance and key role of policymakers that focus on mitigation of global warming; it’s never been more important. Global warming is not a tongue-in-cheek make-fun-of issue. It’s already killing people and decimating life-sourcing ecosystems, rising ocean levels, and turning the global weather system inside out and upside down with unprecedented levels of ferociousness never witnessed, world’s biggest, fiercest wildfires, meanwhile, scorching heat now blankets the planet like never before: When it is hot, it’s never been so hot!

A fair question is whether Electrified Thermal Solutions would have been funded under the description of the following proposal for a new 2025 federal administration: Project 2025 is the Heritage Foundation’s roadmap for MAGA Republicans going forward: “The plan’s proposals include eviscerating existing climate programs and increasing reliance on fossil fuels. It emphatically repudiates efforts to decarbonize the economy and is a wholesale reversal of the progress made on climate policy over recent years.” (Source: Project 2025 Tells us What a Second Trump Term Could Mean for Climate Policy. It Isn’t Pretty, WBUR nonprofit news org, March 27, 2024.

The light at the end of the tunnel just flickered.

(Robert Hunziker, MA, economic history DePaul University, awarded membership in Pi Gamma Mu International Academic Honor Society in Social Sciences is a freelance writer and environmental journalist who has over 200 published articles appearing in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide.)