By Ariana Nieves,
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)
The sustainability community has sought alternative forms of energy for years. One prominent form of renewable energy is Solar energy. However, this alternative has always had one major drawback: its dependence on the Sun and good weather conditions.
Solar energy is only extracted through different methods when the Sun is present, limiting the resource to daylight hours and good weather conditions. Compared to non-renewable energy that is presently available at any time of the day, those factors have created a challenge for fully integrating the renewable energy source. However, that may change in the future.
Back in 2017, a group of scientists working at a Swedish University constructed an energy system that would make it possible to retain and store solar energy for up to 18 years, and the stored energy would be released as heat when needed.
The system is called “MOST: Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems.” The researchers based the mechanics on the design of a molecule “of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen” that alters its shape when it encounters sunlight. It shifts into an “energy-rich isomer – a molecule made up of the same atoms but arranged together in a different way.” The shift changes the isomer into a liquid that researchers can set aside for future use. A catalyst is needed to transfer the isomer back to its original molecular state to be used again as solar energy.
In 2022, the scientific group from Sweden sent their molecule to researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. While using the system, researchers were able “to produce electricity by connecting it to a thermoelectric generator.” This breakthrough has the potential to create a way for “self-charging electronics to use stored solar energy on-demand,” but is still under heavy development. This discovery could be the solution to using solar energy at any time despite past limitations such as weather, timing, and location.
The generator is said to be an “ultra-thin chip” that manufacturers could insert into electronics such as telephones in the future. Researchers claim this new technology could have the potential to replace batteries. This system could be an excellent opportunity to entirely tap into solar renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions.
This technology is still under heavy development, and more research needs to be conducted by professionals before being implemented in the real world. However, it is a significant breakthrough in the sustainability community and a promising option for the future.
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