Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have devised an energy system that can capture solar energy, store it for up to eighteen years, and then release it as needed. By connecting the system to a thermoelectric generator, scientists have now succeeded in making it produce electricity.
“This is a radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy. It means that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location. It is a closed system that can operate without causing carbon dioxide emissions,” says research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.
The new technique is based on the solar energy system called MOST – Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems. Simply put, the technique works by using a specifically designed molecule that changes shape when exposed to sunlight. The Swedish researchers then handed over this molecule (which was filled with solar energy) to their colleagues at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Tao Li and Zhiyu Hu, where the energy was released and transformed into power using a generator they developed.
“The generator is an ultra-thin chip that could be integrated into electronics such as headphones, smart watches and telephones. So far, we have only generated small amounts of electricity, but the new results show that the concept really works. It looks very promising,” says researcher Zhihang Wang from Chalmers University of Technology.
The research offers a lot of potential for producing renewable and emission-free energy. However, much more research and development is required before we can use the system’s stored solar energy to charge our electronic devices or heat our homes.
“Together with the various research groups included in the project, we are now working to streamline the system. The amount of electricity or heat it can extract needs to be increased. Even if the energy system is based on simple basic materials, it needs to be adapted to be sufficiently cost-effective to produce, and thus possible to launch more broadly,” says Kasper Moth-Poulsen.
The entire research is available here.