With the primary intention of their research being thermal storage, scientists at Chalmers have looked at certain compounds in the sunlight that can be rearranged so that they become storable, liquid solar energy. After years of research, as well as experimenting with multiple chemical processes, Chalmers University scientists have discovered a new way to capture the sun’s energy. 

To help them harness sunlight and create storable liquid solar energy, researchers have used a norbornadiene compound that reacts to sunlight. This compound helps to rearrange and recombine the carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen atoms in the sunlight’s molecules. After this process has been achieved, the compound forms a new isomer, or chemical compound, known as quadricyclane.  

Isomers are chemical compounds that have a certain number of chemical properties that are identical to other molecules, except their structure has been rearranged. This process of rearranging the molecules effectively creates a new compound. The same chemical formula is present in both compounds, but there is a fundamental difference in structure, orientation, or bonding of the compounds.  

The isomer researchers have created at Chalmers University for the purposes of solar energy production is a special type of solar energy storing isomer that can hold up to 250 hours of energy per kilogram. This solar energy is then able to be stored for an extended period of time, even long after the compound cools down. In fact, researchers are confident the length of storage for liquid solar energy will be somewhere around 18 years. This process of taking solar energy and turning it into storable liquid energy has the potential to solve multiple energy problems being faced worldwide and in certain regions. Because solar energy is transportable once it has been turned into liquid solar fuel, this breakthrough means we may be able to solve current energy crises across the globe and fuel our planet more effectively. Northern and southern countries, especially, have been kept in mind throughout this research. Such regions have made progress in utilizing hydro and thermal energy systems, but solar energy processes themselves are falling behind. 

Solar Energy Storage through MOST  

Using a solar energy storage system called MOST, an acronym for Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage, scientists were able to effectively store solar energy for usable means. Since the eventual goal is to become one hundred percent reliant on the earth’s renewable resources to fuel our planet, solar energy researchers at Chalmers University and elsewhere have been focused heavily on how to store solar energy. Especially during inclement weather, in regions that are particularly cloudy, and even at night, researchers have been striving to store solar energy so it can be used even during times when sunlight is not visible. 

Additionally, traditional solar panels are expensive. They can also take up space, which may make them impractical for certain regions or cities. Solar panels are great for centralized locations. Innovations like community solar gardens have helped to expand the reach of solar panels, but it has still been a challenge for researchers to find more effective ways to really harness the sun’s power.  

Solving Energy Problems with Liquid Solar Power 

While solar energy is helping us take advantage of clean fuel already available to us on this planet, there are still many challenges that need viable solutions. Turning solar energy into liquid fuel is a positive step forward. Storing and shipping solar energy worldwide would ultimately revolutionize the way we process and use energy utility as a species. Since sunlight is a free, renewable resource we have available to us, the possibilities of the kind of future we can create are endless. With the strides that have been made in recent years, it is becoming more and more probable that our planet might, indeed, be saved for generations to come. 

To learn more information about how scientists have been able to turn solar energy into liquid, storable fuel, as well as other information on other developments in the field, check out this video here: https://youtu.be/8FdFhgEVp5w 

Resources 

https://bigthink.com/technology-innovation/liquid-solar-fuel-storage?rebelltitem=1# 

https://cleantechnica.com/2019/01/06/turning-solar-energy-into-liquid-fuel/ 

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