Hydrogen is a clean and renewable energy source that can be used to power transportation, industry, and electricity generation. However, transporting hydrogen from the production sites to the consumption points can be challenging and costly. Addressing that challenge is what drives SOLID, a non-profit foundation run by voluntarily students. We sat down with Joost van der Kraan, finance manager of the team, to discuss their technological innovations, challenges and ambitions.
SOLID started as an Honors Academy project at the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e), which is located on campus surrounded by other start-ups, researchers, and other student teams. A suitable location for an innovative young group of students considering the TU/e is part of the Brainport region which has been on the forefront of technological innovation in the Netherlands for years.
Students take time off their normal courses and activities to spend it on SOLID. Every year, the entire board and most of the general team is replaced by new students as former members move on. This year there are four board members and fifteen part timers.
The main advantage their setup generates is the ability to connect academia and industry and act as a bridge between universities and corporations. In addition, their non-profit structure allows them to take on more risk compared to conventional corporations.
Therefore, their role is not to bring technology as a product to the market, but rather to bring it to a ‘technology readiness level’ (TRL) at which point the industry takes over the development. This sometimes results in members from the team establishing spin out start-ups with commercials objectives of their own.
Their goal, however, is enabling access to clean and renewable energy for anyone at any time; and they do this by contributing towards creating ecosystems for sustainable energy carriers. Currently they are working on effectively ‘storing’ hydrogen using iron.
While working on various projects, the team generated a lot of traction once it realised the first stable iron flame and in the following three years, it worked on further developing the iron combustion technology. In 2020 the Lighthouse Metal Power was demonstrated at Swinkels Brewery. This system was able to burn iron powder, creating a flame that supplied the brewery with 100 kW of heat. Thanks to this demonstration, the technology gathered a lot of attention, facilitating for larger follow up projects and the spin-off of the start-up RIFT.
This led to the birth of the Steam Iron concept, inspired from a paper, published by one of SOLID’s founders, Luc Brinkman. In this paper he made an analyses of different metals to act as a sustainable energy carrier for hydrogen. Since 2020, SOLID has been working on developing this technology, with the goal of bringing it once again to TRL.
The Steam Iron technology works according to the ‘wet cycle’ (pictured below). Instead of burning the iron, it reacts with hot steam, resulting in hydrogen and iron oxide. This part of the cycle is called the oxidation part. The resulting iron oxide, or otherwise known as ‘rust’ can be regenerated into iron by letting it react with hydrogen. This regeneration part ensures that a sustainable cycle is created that can safely ‘store’ hydrogen in iron without any additional emissions.
During the last two years, SOLID has developed the SIR1 (Steam Iron Reactor 1). This installation is able to produce 1 kg of hydrogen using 20 kg of iron. The SIR1 is a proof-of-concept reactor that shows the enormous potential of the technology which is being further tested and improved at present.
“This technology is mostly aimed at companies that use high heat in their process. Currently this sector is still almost entirely based on fossil fuels, where hydrogen could offer an effective de-carbonisation solution,” Joost tells us. The technology is particularly interesting for companies that do not have immediate access to hydrogen and are in need of alternative ways of transporting it to their sites. That is where SOLID’s technological solution can help, by facilitating safe, efficient and cheap transportation and (decentralised) storage of hydrogen through the use of iron pellets.
During the construction of the proof-of-concept reactor called the SIR1 (Steam Iron Rector 1) a techno- economic feasibility study has been conducted. The summary of this study can be found in the picture below.
In the Netherlands, where SOLID mainly focusses their efforts, a significant investment is being considered to transport hydrogen through pipelines. Currently there are plans to supply five big industrial clusters with pipelines, representing 30% of industrial CO2 emissions. As promising as that sounds, 70% of emissions remain untouched, largely represented by companies in ‘the sixth cluster’ such as ceramic, waste processing and glass producing industries.
“The Steam Iron technology allows for these companies to de-carbonise without having to invest in expensive hydrogen pipelines themselves. The iron pellets could be transported throughout the country using regular means. Once arrived at its destination, they can be oxidised to hydrogen and iron oxide, giving the company access to hydrogen,” Joost tells.
Considering the non-profit nature of the team, measuring success of their technology in a conventional way is challenging. In general, the most objective way to do so is through assessing the progress in TRL per project. Once a technology reaches a level where the industry takes over, SOLID can define that as a success.
“For example, after four years of development on the combustion cycle, a spin off called RIFT emerged from our team, which has been further improving and developing the iron combustion cycle. At that point the technology was far enough on the TRL scale that it was time for SOLID to start on a new technology.”
For the future SOLID wants to develop and test the SIR1. In 2023 one of the goals will be to add the reduction step, ensuring that the entire ‘wet’ cycle can be tested. At the same time, the business team will have to be working day and night to lay out the foundation for a scale up installation that brings the TRL to the next step. To make this happen, new contacts, partners and collaborations must be found willing to support SOLID on their mission. Maybe that is you? Get in touch with Team Solid on