Alternative Fuels Australia

Cars that run on…iron?

Posted by Car Geek on September 22, 2007

Image courtesy of ORNL.As strange as it might sound, running your car on iron filings might be a possibility in the future, if researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States have their way.

WA Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan has visited the Tennessee-based research facility recently to try and find a clean alternative to fossil fuels. Ms MacTiernan is not completely convinced that current alternatives such as ethanol and diesel are truly viable replacements for petrol in Australia, and as such is scouting out potential solutions.

Oak Ridge’s potentially revolutionary fuel, which uses iron powder rather than traditional gas or liquid fuel, utilises nanotechnology to create very fine particles that combust at lower temperatures than larger particles. The nanoparticles can be burned using existing combustion engine technology (much like regular vehicles) at a much lower cost than other alternatives such as fuel cells, but with a higher efficiency than petrol. David Beach, the head of ORNL’s Materials Chemistry Group that has pioneered the research, says that the fuel could drive vehicles three times further than conventional petrol, and can be stored at ambient temperature and pressure safely.

“We have performed experiments with iron nanoparticles about 50 nanometers in diameter,” Beach says. “These nanoparticles are partially oxidized to develop a 2-nanometerthick oxide coating that keeps the particles from spontaneously combusting. With the oxide coating, which we measured using X-ray diffraction, a temperature exceeding 150°C is required to make the particles ignite. We measured the peak combustion temperatures of these particles, the ignition temperature, and the extent of the reaction. Then we determined the products of the reaction.

“In our radiometry experiment we measured the iron nanoparticles’ peak combustion temperature, which is 1100 Kelvin,” Beach continues. “The temperature should be hot enough to achieve high energy efficiency but not so high that exotic materials, such as expensive ceramics, are required to contain the combustion. Cast iron can be used as the combustion chamber for nanostructured metal fuels.”

The powder fuel, which may also potentially be made out of boron, could also be used in gas turbines such as those found on aircraft, providing a potential safe future fuel for aviation as well as land-based vehicles.

Meanwhile, we hope that Ms MacTiernan continues to search for viable alternative fuels such as this and brings some of the best ideas back to Australia.

(Source: ORNL via The Australian)

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