The demand for portable power sources is constantly rising, creating the need for compact technologies that can deliver and store energy. To address these needs, a group of scientists has discovered a smart way to convert sunlight energy into electricity.
The science and other stuff to know
In 2017, researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden developed an energy system that makes it possible to capture solar energy, store it for more than 18 years, and release it when and where needed. Called Molecular Solar Thermal (MOST) Energy Storage Systems, the technology is based on a novel molecule, made from carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. It’s capable of converting into an energy-rich isomer (a molecule composed of the same atoms but arranged differently) upon exposure to sunlight. The isomer can then be stored in liquid form for future use, such as at night or during the winter.
Previously, the researchers were only able to convert the energy stored in the MOST Energy Storage system — using a specially designed catalyst — into heat. But now, they have advanced their research by connecting the system to an ultra-thin thermoelectric generator. By doing so, they have succeeded in converting solar energy into electricity.
The new study is published in Cell Reports Physical Science and was carried out in partnership with researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. It takes the solar energy system a step further, detailing how it can be merged with thermoelectric generators to convert solar energy into electricity.
The ultimate goal of this novel research is to develop self-charging electronics using stored solar energy. “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,” explains research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers, in a press release.
This technology can also help in the production of renewable and emissions-free energy, as it is refined to the point that it’s now possible to store solar energy for up to 18 years.
At this stage, this new tech requires lots of research and development before it’s possible to charge our technical appliances with the system’s stored solar energy. “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 research leader Moth-Poulsen.