A new scientific breakthrough from Swedish researchers could transform the way we store and use solar energy, meaning we could potentially capture and store solar energy for up to 18 years.
The researchers from a Swedish University first developed their new energy system, known as a ‘Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage System’, in 2017 and have now succeeded in getting the system to produce electricity by connecting it to a thermoelectric generator.
In order to be able to store energy for such a long period of time, the technology has been built using a specially designed molecule of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, that changes shape when coming into contact with sunlight. This special molecule changes into an ‘energy-rich isomer’ (a molecule made of the same atoms but arranged together in a different way) when hit by sunlight. The molecule can then be stored in liquid form for use at a later date, for example during the night.
“It means that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location,” explains research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.
Any saved energy will be released as heat from a catalyst, while the molecule will return to its original shape so it can be used again. For the final step of the process - transferring electricity - the researchers used an ‘ultra-thin’ chip that helps to turn the stored solar energy into electricity.
This advancement could help to positively impact the way in which we use renewable energy, as we could ultimately store more of it and have more flexibility in terms of usage.
Other researchers from around the globe have also been making other scientific advancements in regards to solar energy, with researchers from the University of Michigan showing promise with their latest solar cell design, which has the potential to be used on windows, whilst still providing the luxury of being able to look outside.
This development would be considerably costs effective due to their low manufacturing cost, meaning they would be easy to develop on a larger scale.