The molecule itself is made up of a combination of hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon. Specifically, the molecule is a type known as an #energy-rich isomer. This refers to a molecule that is comprised of the same atoms, but they are bonded together in a different way. Through this process, researchers have been able to store #solar energy within these molecules and reserve it for later use. This is truly a remarkable discovery for the solar industry and solar utility worldwide. Increased storage capacity of solar energy is good news not just in terms of innovation, but cost for both consumers and solar industry businesses alike.
Why it Matters
One of the current challenges solar industry developers and researchers face is consistency of solar energy output, particularly when it comes to inclement weather or evening hours. One of the main focuses in the industry has been to find a way to make solar energy sustainable 24/7 in any location, at any time. This new molecule is how researchers hope solar utility companies can begin to provide more reliable, around-the-clock solar energy. So far, what they have discovered points to a potentially viable solution for long-term solar energy usage. Sustainability and consistency are the ways in which solar utility can eventually become the primary energy utility provider worldwide. The more solar energy can be utilized, the less reliance we will have over time on traditional utility generation in back-up scenarios. With power being stored and reserved for later in these molecules, solar energy would be available even when immediate conditions do not provide the full amount of solar utility needed, such as in winter months.
Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage
By adapting the molecule into a liquid form, researchers were able to create an isomer that can store solar energy for up to 18 years. Amazingly, during their initial research process, they did not anticipate such phenomenal storage capacity. It was by happenstance that this process turned out to be far more influential and meaningful than researchers could have ever hoped. Additionally, they found a way to remove a component of the liquid; a flammable chemical known as toluene. This makes the solar storage a much safer process. The isomer captures solar energy, then stores it at room temperature. This results in minimal loss of the solar energy itself.
A Unique, but Effective Process
Kasper Moth-Poulsen, a professor in the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Department at Chalmers University, was head researcher on the Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage (MOST) project. Moth-Poulsen told Solar Daily this month that their research team has made some great advances in terms of the creation and development of Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage. Alongside his team of dedicated solar energy researchers, he has been able to perfect the process of liquifying the molecules and creating a catalyst reaction that ultimately controls the release of the stored energy.
The entire process begins with the liquid capturing the sunlight within a special solar thermal collector. The solar thermal collector works similarly to that of a satellite dish, directing the sun’s rays to the liquid molecule. Then, when energy is retrieved from the collector it is stored for later use at room temperature. When that energy is needed, it is reheated to become useable again. This cyclic process has several special qualities. First, the entire process is emissions free, which is great news. Secondly, despite the reheating and the shifting states of the molecule itself, no damage is done to the molecule during the process.
Continuing to combine together all of the complex components that comprise this molecule is just one of Moth-Poulsen’s primary goals moving forward. He remarked that his team has just been able to achieve a functional system and will now work to optimize the entire process. It is predicted, as well as his hope, that this technology will be available to commercial use within the next decade.