Solar-powered electronics are one step closer to becoming an everyday part of our lives thanks to a “radical” new scientific breakthrough.
In 2017, scientists at a Swedish university created an energy system that makes it possible to capture and store solar energy for up to 18 years, releasing it as heat when needed.
Now the researchers have succeeded in getting the system to produce electricity by connecting it to a thermoelectric generator. Though still in its early stages, the concept developed at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenberg could pave the way for self-charging electronics that use stored solar energy on demand.
“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,” explains research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.
“I’m very excited about this work,” he adds. “We hope with future development this will be an important part in the future energy system.”
How can solar energy be stored?
Solar energy is a variable renewable because for the most part it, it only works when the sun shines. But technology to combat this much-discussed flaw is already being developed at a fast pace.
Long-term storage of the energy they generate is another matter. The solar energy system created at Chalmers back in 2017 is known as ‘MOST’: Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems.
The technology is based on a specially designed molecule of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen that changes shape when it comes into contact with sunlight.
It shape-shifts into an ‘energy-rich isomer’ – a molecule made up of the same atoms but arranged together in a different way. The isomer can then be stored in liquid form for later use when needed, such as at night or in the depths of winter.
A catalyst releases the saved energy as heat while returning the molecule to its original shape, ready to be used again.
Over the years, researchers have refined the system to the point that it is now possible to store the energy for an incredible 18 years.