University of Newcastle to manufacture revolutionary new thermal storage material

The Lego-like blocks could see coal-fired power stations converted to run entirely fossil-fuel free

MGA Thermal
Alex Post and Erich Kisi. Photo courtesy University of Newcastle

Coined Miscibility Gaps Alloy (MGA), the extraordinary blocks are capable of receiving energy generated by renewables, storing it cheaply and safely as thermal energy, then using it to run steam turbines at power stations instead of burning coal.

Professor Erich Kisi and his team have spent the last 8 years perfecting the innovation to effectively and affordably store thermal energy. Their solution – 20cm x 30cm x 16cm blocks – can be retrofitted to retired power plants or introduced to existing power plants to help them transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Stackable like Lego, MGA blocks can be added or removed to scale the system up or down to meet market demand.

Erich said the innovation enabled renewable energy to be used as reliable baseload power – providing a sought-after solution to transition from fossil fuels to renewable technology whilst maintaining existing infrastructure and associated workforces.

“We’re aiming to bridge the gap between cheap and abundant renewable energy, which is generated in peaks, and the ability to store and dispatch energy at any time of day or night, to meet consumer needs.”

“Unlike coal-fired power, which is regulated and controlled, renewable energy is a challenge because it is less predictable and inconsistent. The grid, which includes the poles and wires you see on streets connecting to houses and buildings, was not designed to receive large spikes associated with renewable energy,” Erich said.

“Redesigning the whole grid is simply too expensive so we’ve created MGA as an energy storage solution to marry with existing infrastructure. We’ve made renewable energy compatible at grid-scale so that when the Sun doesn’t shine or wind drops the grid still delivers power on-demand.”

A boost for Australian manufacturing

With close to $1million combined funding from CP Ventures and an Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Accelerating Commercialisation Grant, the MGA Thermal team are establishing a NSW-based manufacturing plant to scale production of their modular blocks to commercial levels.

Erich said the manufacturing facility would immediately create several full-time jobs.

“There’s potential for a whole new local industry, manufacturing high value thermal storage material for renewable energy projects,” said Professor Kisi.

“Our location in the Hunter is ideal. The region has a background as a strong centre for industry and there’s great access to raw materials.”

CP Ventures Co-Managing Partner, Emlyn Scott, said the MGA technology was unique in its key capabilities and scalability in large-scale energy storage.

“What’s really exciting is that as a viable energy storage solution it represents the missing component to renewable energy. We believe it has the potential to change the world,” Mr Scott said.

Full steam ahead

Erich and his team have established spin-out company MGA Thermal to continue to commercialise their MGA block technology licensed to it by the University. The company participated in the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network (I2N) “Incubator Program”, that assists new ventures with the connections to business community, customers and capital.

Director at the University of Newcastle’s Knowledge Exchange and Enterprise, Dr Darren Cundy, said MGA Thermal was a tangible example of ground-up research migrating its way to market and delivering value for people and the planet.

“We are particularly pleased to see our researchers directly involved in the company taking a solution that could totally transform how we use renewables. Their work is driving regional growth and opportunity - starting local but thinking global,” Dr Cundy said.

To read more about Accelerating Commercialisation Grants, go to the Australian Government website here.

Professor Erich Kisi shares his innovation journey as co-founder of renewable energy storage company MGA Thermal at I2N's Startup Stories here.

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