While harnessing solar power has been a possibility for decades, being able to effectively store it has always been an issue.
Researchers in Sweden have said they have found a solution that would allow solar power to be stored and used across multiple heating applications.
Scientists from Chalmers University of Technology, have created an energy-trapping molecule, a storage system and an energy-storing laminate coating that can be applied to windows and textiles.
This will allow the energy from the sun to be harnessed, stored and released on demand in the form of heat.
A liquid molecule made of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen draws in the suns rays and holds their energy until a catalyst triggers its release as heat. This is then stored in a specialised unit which took about a decade and $2.5 million (R37 million) to create. This unit has the ability to outlast the 5 to 10 years of storage available in lithium-iron batteries that we use today.
“The energy in this isomer can now be stored for up to 18 years. And when we come to extract the energy and use it, we get a warmth increase which is greater than we dared hope for,” said the leader of the research team, Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, in a statement.
According to Science Alert, this solar thermal fuel, when hit by sunlight, changes the bonds between its atoms and turns into a new energised version of itself. Then when the energy is needed, the fluid goes through the catalyst and returns to its original form, releasing the energy as heat.
The catalyst for controlling the release of the stored energy acts as a filter, through which the liquid flows, creating a reaction which warms the liquid by 63°Celsius. If the liquid has a temperature of 20°C when it pumps through the filter, it comes out the other side at 83°C.
A prototype of the energy system was placed on a roof of the university.
“We have made many crucial advances recently, and today we have an emissions-free energy system which works all year around,” said Moth-Poulsen.
While this is an achievement in itself, Bloomberg said that the team also developed a transparent coating that can be applied to windows, buildings and moving vehicles. This will then collect solar energy and release heat, making heating spaces easier and lowering electricity requirements for heating.
“There is a lot left to do. We have just got the system to work. Now we need to ensure everything is optimally designed,” he said.