Coal-fired power stations could be converted to entirely fossil-fuel-free generators thanks to a solution developed by Australian engineers. The University of Newcastle has patented new thermal storage material housed in stackable blocks like Lego.
The blocks can store energy generated by renewables as thermal energy, which can be used to run steam turbines at power stations rather than burning coal.
Measuring 20cm x 30cm x 16cm, the blocks can be retrofitted to retired power plants or added to existing ones to help them move to renewables.
Lead researcher Erich Kisi said the blocks provided a way to transition while maintaining existing infrastructure, rather than redesigning the electricity grid to cope with more renewables.
"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," Professor Kisi said.
A manufacturing plant is being set up in the NSW Hunter region for commercial production.
Professor Kisi says the blocks are cheaper, safer, last longer and are more scalable than batteries.
"They are 10 per cent of the cost of a lithium battery of the same size, yet produce the same amount of energy," he said.
The blocks can store millions of kilowatt-hours of energy are made of non-toxic, 100 per cent recyclable materials.
The blocks are being tested on retired and existing coal-fired power plants in Europe.