Solar energy discovery could lead to power generated in the dark

April 17, 2014 0 By Amanda Giasson

Scientists make new solar power breakthrough.

Solar Energy Research - solar power generated from darkMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University scientists have developed a method that will allow for solar energy to be stored in molecules that can be used to provide homes with water, heat, or can even be utilized for cooking.

The molecules are environmentally friendly and can continually store heat.

Despite their awesome discovery, scientists are still far from being able to build this amazing machine with never ending heat storage capabilities that can be used incessantly over and over again without emitting any greenhouse gases. Even though this may be the case, at present, they have managed to demonstrate in the lab the possibility of this incredible invention known as photoswitching.

According to MIT researchers, “Some molecules, known as photoswitches, can assume either of two different shapes, as if they had a hinge in the middle.” They went on to say that “Exposing [these molecules] to sunlight causes them to absorb energy and jump from one configuration to the other, which is then stable for long periods of time.”

According to the scientists, to free the energy, one simply needs to expose the molecules to a tiny amount of heat, electricity or light. Once they change back to their other shape, the molecules will begin to produce heat. Essentially, they act as if they were “rechargeable thermal batteries” that absorb solar energy and store what has been absorbed indefinitely and then release what has been stored when needed.

How does molecular solar storage become solar energy for your home?

According to Timothy Kucharski, the postdoc at MIT and Harvard and the lead author of the paper, “Templated assembly of photoswitches significantly increases the energy-storage capacity of solar thermal fuels”, published in the scientific journal Nature Chemistry, if this technology became commercialized, it is likely that molecular storage would be in the form of liquid, which would make transportation easier.

Kucharski imagines that this solar energy technology would benefit countries where the majority of people depend on dung or burning wood to be able to cook. These sources emit hazardous levels of air pollution indoors, which can contribute to climate change and deforestation.

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