Scientists discover how to store solar energy for up to 18 years in liquid form
An energy system created by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden has shown it can produce electricity, a breakthrough it believes lays the groundwork for self-charging electronics that use solar power on demand.
The technology, called molecular solar thermal system (MOST), has been in development for more than a decade and it centers around a specially designed molecule of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen (nothing to do with the solar panels we put up at home).
When it comes into contact with sunlight, the molecule’s atoms rearrange to change its shape and turn it into an energy-rich isomer, which can be stored in liquid form (click here if you like solar experiments).
The energy captured by the MOST system can be stored in this liquid state for up to 18 years, before a specially designed catalyst returns the molecule to its original shape and releases the energy as heat.
Chalmers’ team has now collaborated with scientists at China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University, who have used a compact thermoelectric generator to convert that heat into electricity.
“The generator is an ultra-thin chip that could be embedded in electronic gadgets such as headphones, smart watches and phones. Until now we have only generated small amounts of electricity, but the new results show that the concept really works“, explains researcher Zhihang Wangfrom Chalmers University of Technology.
Current proof-of-concept output is up to 0.1 nW (up to 1.3 W m-3 power output per unit volume), which can be quite small.
But scientists see great potential in its MOST system, which could cope with the intermittent nature of solar energy by storing it for months or years and allowing its use on demand.
Once it has been shown that the system can be used to produce electricity, the team focuses on improving its performancewhile working towards an affordable commercial solution for charging appliances and heating homes.
In this way, the great problem of solar energy would be solved: its storage to supply electricity at night and on cloudy days.