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University of South Australia researchers have developed a new technique that they say may greatly reduce industry’s dependence on natural gas.

The carbon-free solution for industrial heat applications combines renewable energy and low-cost thermal storage to deliver heat for high-temperature industrial processes.

The industrial sector is said to be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world and it faces mounting pressure to reduce its carbon footprint.

Research indicates around 20 per cent of global fossil fuel emissions are currently produced by industry, mainly through burning natural gas to create heat.

UniSA’s Barbara Hardy Institute researcher Rhys Jacob said the system developed by his team uses renewable energy from solar or wind combined with a novel approach to energy storage to deliver industrial heat at temperatures between 150°C and 700°C.

“Rather than trying to store renewable electricity in a battery, our system uses electricity to generate heat and then stores that heat in a bed of rocks and phase change materials, so it can be available on demand for high temperature applications,” Jacob said.

“We can currently deliver temperatures up to around 700°C, which is adequate for many processes in industries like paper milling, agriculture, mineral operations and food production.”

As well as the environmental benefits of emissions-free operation, the system is also said to be economically competitive, offering potential savings against increasingly unstable gas prices and more cost-effective storage than battery technology.

Despite its industry-changing potential, Jacob said the technology is comprised of relatively basic components, with low initial installation costs and ongoing maintenance requiring no specialist expertise or costly replacement parts.