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23-Sep-2017 04:26

But the bricks used for the outer parts of the structure could have very low thermal conductivity, thus creating an insulating shell to help retain the heat of the central stack.

The current limit on FIRES is the resistance heaters.

While industrial process heat is viable at about 800 C, he says, the turbines need compressed air heated to at least 1,600 C.

Ordinary resistance heaters can’t go that high, and such systems will also need an enclosing pressure vessel to handle the needed air pressure.

And unlike the demand for electricity, which varies greatly and often unpredictably, the demand for industrial heat is constant and can make use of an extra heat source whenever it’s available, providing an almost limitless market for the heat provided by this firebrick-based system.

The system, which Forsberg calls FIRES (for FIrebrick Resistance-heated Energy Storage), would in effect raise the minimum price of electricity on the utilities market, which currently can plunge to almost zero at times of high production, such as the middle of a sunny day when solar plant outputs are at their peak.

Existing low-cost, reliable heaters only go to about 850 C.

Virtually dirt cheap to produce — clay is, after all, just a particular kind of dirt — such high-temperature bricks have been found in archeological sites dating back to around 3,500 years ago, such as in iron-smelting kilns built by the Hittites in what is now Turkey.

That, in turn, could help to make more carbon-free power sources, such as solar, wind, and nuclear, more profitable and thus encourage their expansion.

The collapse of electricity prices due to expansion of nonfossil energy is already happening and will continue to increase as renewable energy installations increase.

Electricity prices are determined a day in advance, with a separate price for each one-hour segment of the day.

This is done through an auction system between the producers and the distributors of power.

“In electricity markets such as Iowa, California, and Germany, the price of electricity drops to near zero at times of high wind or solar output,” Forsberg says.