As electricity prices continue to rise to historic levels, one company has a novel solution that would allow families to sidestep price hikes -- and cut down their carbon footprint at the same time.
A Sydney-based company has joined forces with University of Newcastle researchers to develop a machine it says can power an entire family home throughout the year, without using any power from the grid. As well as electricity, it also provides hot water, heating and cooling for homes, plus additional oxygen which can be on sold for a profit.
It is called the Infratech Chemical Looping Energy-on-Demand System (CLES), and developer Dr Rajesh Nellore believes it has "huge potential" to revolutionise the way we power our homes.
Of course, you can't get nothing from nothing -- the machine does still require fuel. This comes in the form of an elusive patented "particle mixture", and the use of either solar panels or a supply of natural gas.
"Gas is our most reliable form of energy, is more cost effective for the end user and produces one-third of the emissions of other fossil fuels," said the University of Newcastle's Professor Moghtaderi.
Professor Moghtaderi is the Director of the Priority Research Centre for Frontier Energy Technologies and Utilisation at the university's Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources facility. He has worked closely with Dr Nullore on the research and commercialisation of the technology.
The machine can work in one of two modes: as an energy storage system, where the unit operates like a battery, storing the energy provided by solar panels; or as an 'energy-on-demand' system, where the system is powered around the clock by natural gas. The two modes can also works in union, cutting down the amount of gas required while providing an ongoing source of power.
"There's a naturally occurring particle mixture, which when it oxides produces heat. The hot air runs the turbine that produces electricity," Dr Nullore explained.
"Being a thermochemical process, there is heat loss, so you can use the heat to heat water or to get heating and cooling and also to produce oxygen. So it gives you multiple benefits instead of just electricity. Oxygen is a revenue-generator, and you can get continuous power as well."
The video gives an overview of how it all works. The University of Newcastle have also outlined the process on their website.
Infratech and Newcastle University have developed a fully operational commercial-scale version of the technology, which is currently located in Newcastle and which Dr Nullore says can power up to 30 homes.
"These are systems for small hospitals, a shopping centre or let's say a commercial complex," Dr Nullore told HuffPost Australia.
He believes these commercial-sized machines will be on the market within six months. The scaled-down version for individual households is expected to be available in the second half of 2018.
Sound too good to be true?
Well, it does comes with a hefty price tag. Dr Nullore estimates the initial outlay for a machine for a family home is expected to be around $30,000. He also conceded there would be ongoing maintenance costs as well as labour.
"Normal wear and tear is a given because it has mechanical parts," Dr Nellore said.
"The cost is in replacing the cartridges of the particle mixture. That is an ongoing cost -- the particles need to be replaced, we expect every six months. It's like a photocopier machine cartridge."
If used in its 'Energy-on-demand' mode, the Infratech CLES would also require natural gas, which would need replacing.
But Dr Nellore believes all these costs will be more than compensated for by the savings to a household's power bill, as well as the sale of oxygen -- a $18.5 trillion industry worldwide.
The unit stores the oxygen it creates in compressed oxygen tanks, similar to those used in hospitals, and can produce medical-grade oxygen, with a purity as high as 99.8 percent, says Dr Nullore.
In fact, he claims the user will be able to make their money back within two years, based on energy savings and oxygen sales combined. Generally, a homeowner installing solar panels on their rooftop wouldn't expect to make their money back for around seven to 10 years.
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