Solar energy is a nearly unlimited resource, but it is only available to us when the sun is shining. For solar power to provide for the majority of our energy needs, there needs to be a way to capture the energy from the sun, store it, and release it when we need it. There are many approaches to storing solar energy, but so far none have provided an ideal solution.
Scientists at the Chalmers Institute of Technology in Sweden have developed a way to harness solar energy and keep it in reserve so it can be released on demand in the form of heat—even decades after it was captured. Their solution combines several innovations, including an energy-trapping molecule, a storage system, and an energy-storing laminate for windows and textiles.
The energy-trapping molecule is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. When hit by sunlight, the molecule captures the sun’s energy and holds on to it until it is released as heat by a catalyst. The specialized storage unit is claimed to be able to store energy for decades. The transparent coating that the team developed also collects solar energy and releases heat. Using it would reduce the amount of electricity required for heating buildings.
So far, the team has concentrated on producing heat from stored solar energy. It is unclear whether the technology can be adapted to produce electricity, which would be even more valuable. In any event, the team does not yet have precise cost estimates for its technology, but there are no rare or expensive elements required, so the economics seem promising. There is much more work to be done, but this could be a very important technology for the world’s energy systems.
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