Hot Bricks For The Win

Many heavy industries – think plants that manufacture steel or glass – use high temperatures, typically produced by burning fossil fuels, to make their products. It is now possible to get electricity from renewable sources more cheaply than via fossil fuels but it is difficult to get high heat from electricity (versus burning coal or natural gas). Enter the MIT spinoff company Electrical Thermal Solutions (ETS) and their Joule Hive which is an elevator sized thermal battery.

This article describes the Hive as “a large, insulated metal box loaded with dozens of white-hot ceramic bricks that convert electricity to heat at temperatures up to 1800 degrees Celsius—well beyond the melting point of steel—and with enough thermal mass to hold the heat for days.”

The problem with converting electricity to heat previously has been that earlier technology, “like the wires that turn red hot in a toaster, work well at low temperatures but quickly burn out at higher temperatures. Other, less common materials like molybdenum and silicon carbide heaters can withstand higher temperatures, but are prohibitively expensive.”

MIT grad student Dan Stack, one of the cofounders of ETS, “wondered if firebricks, the bricks commonly used in residential fireplaces and industrial kilns, could be a less expensive, more durable solution. Bricks do not typically conduct electricity, but by slightly altering the recipe of the metal oxides used to make them, he and ETS co-founder Joey Kabel were able to create bricks that could essentially take the place of wires to conduct electricity and generate heat.”

ETS has been successful in obtaining funding receiving “a $5 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to help build its first commercial-scale demonstration project” in January 2024. Ashland, “a specialty chemical manufacturer based in Wilmington, Delaware, was awarded up to $35 million in a matching grant from the Energy Department to fund what would be the first commercial deployment of ETS’s thermal batteries.”

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