Tokyo Institute of Technology Professor Takashi Yabe uses water and the common metallic element magnesium to create pollution-free power. Yabe is demonstrating the technology with an experiment performed at the Hokkaido Toyako G8 summit in Chitose, Japan, aimed to prove that the revolutionary Magnesium Energy Cycle could one-day free society from dependence on fossil fuels. Professor Yabe’s team at TIT has been steadily testing the technology for several years now, and the pilot plant at Chitose is intended to showcase the environmentally-friendly fuel cycle to an influential audience at the G8 environmental summit.
Yabe explains that the oceans alone contain 1,800 trillion tons of magnesium, enough to meet the world’s energy needs for the next 300,000 years. But the metallic element that looks like white-silver glitter has never been considered a viable energy source because refining it, at temperatures up to 4,000°C (7,200°F), requires a lot of money and energy.
To solve that part of the process Yabe and his colleagues have been developing a system of lenses and lasers to harness one of the most readily available sources of energy around – using free sunlight.
First Yabe needs to get the magnesium from the ocean. To do this, the team designed a device that extracts magnesium chloride from seawater – and leaves behind fresh water -using a special evaporation technique.
Then Yabe and his team chemically turn the magnesium chloride into magnesium oxide. Using a 43-sq.-ft. (4 sq m) plastic Fresnel lenses focuses the sunlight into lasers and sends it down microscopic fibers. The fibers help concentrate the light – and heat – onto the magnesium oxide particles inside a vacuum tank. The result is refined magnesium ready for the Yabe “magic.”
The energy extraction segment of the cycle is relatively simple: refined magnesium powder is mixed with water at room temperature, triggering a chemical reaction bonding the magnesium with the oxygen and creating heat energy. What’s left is hydrogen, which is collected and burned to produce more heat with water as its byproduct.
The cycle can recycle itself by again and again, each time applying solar-powered lasers to break the oxidized magnesium back down to the separated metallic magnesium and oxygen. The only energy used is sunlight while the waste products are oxygen, hydrogen and water. As for the magnesium, it’s not rare – the light shiny metal is the ninth-most common element in the universe, making up 2 percent of the earth’s crust and is the third-most common element dissolved in seawater.
Yabe and his team have developed a magnesium injection cycle engine, the prototype was built by Mitsubishi, which could go into production quite quickly. Mitsubishi successfully demonstrated the injection cycle process back in 2006. Since then, Yabe and his team have been refining the process and setting up the demonstration facility at Chitose.
Yabe and his team have dubbed the process “MAGIC” for the MAGnesium Injection Cycle. MAGIC is a nice term for the process.
The magnesium itself may have considerable value in the fuel cell battery business as well. Some fuel cell batteries using magnesium are reported to be seven times more powerful than the lithium-ion batteries that proposed to run many of today’s hybrid and electric vehicles. Yabe says, “If we can replace all energy combustion with our MAGIC cycle, there will be no CO2 emissions. No one has proposed such a complete system.”
Yabe’s ultimate vision is one of a massive, solar-powered laser that beams light to a relay satellite that, in turn, sends energy to airplanes and tankers around the world. One must say the man is thinking globally, but just getting an automobile or something running might come first.
What isn’t said or available is the overall energy needed for the evaporation, magnesium preparation or the yield from the MAGIC engine. Having that would give Yabe and his team some legs for their efforts. Its surely less energy intensive to recycle the magnesium, yet an overall input/output report would be very helpful.
Using the metal magnesium seems at first to be more useful than the process of using aluminum to release hydrogen, which needs a great deal of electricity input. Lets hope the team comes up with some numbers, they would be interesting and worthwhile. Yabe and the team’s work does look to have an interesting take on a new way to store energy using a benign metal for the “fuel.” Let’s hope it is a great idea, powered metal for fuel offers a lot of possibilities.