Researchers Discover Material That Can Store Solar Energy for Months or Even Years

By: | December 14th, 2020

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Considering the way the climate is changing… a shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy is the need of the hour. But this shift involves a lot of challenges. And one of the biggest challenges is to store the energy from intermittent sources such as solar and wind.

Now researchers from Lancaster University studying a crystalline material have discovered that it has properties that can do wonders. This material has properties that allow it to capture solar energy. The energy can be stored for several months at room temperature and can be released on demand as heat. 

In the future researchers foresee such materials could offer a way of capturing solar energy during the summer months and storing it for use in winter.

This discovery would prove vital for:

  • Applications like heating systems in off-grid systems or remote locations. 
  • De-icing the glass in freezing winter mornings
  • It could be used as an environmentally-friendly supplement to conventional heating in houses and offices. 

The material is based on a type of ‘metal-organic framework’ (MOF). In it, carbon-based molecules form three-dimensional structures by linking metal ions. These MOFs are porous, so they can form composite materials by hosting other small molecules.

In the study, researchers added molecules of the light-absorbing compound azobenzene. Once exposed to UV light, the composite material so formed can store energy for at least four months at room temperature.

Dr. John Griffin, a Joint principal investigator on the study, said, “The material functions a bit like phase change materials, which are used to supply heat in hand warmers. However, while hand warmers need to be heated in order to recharge them, the nice thing about this material is that it captures “free” energy directly from the sun. It also has no moving or electronic parts and so there are no losses involved in the storage and release of the solar energy. We hope that with further development we will be able to make other materials which store even more energy,” 

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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