Nasa (on flickr) [Public domain]
Research into solar energy technology has sought for many years to find a viable solution for its capture, storage and then release. It now appears that there is finally a breakthrough courtesy of a Swedish team. Researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg have devised a methodology whereby they can harness solar energy, critically have the capability to store it and then release it in the form of heat, potentially many years after it was first captured.
The process begins via a liquid molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The molecule absorbs the sun’s energy and is capable of storing it until it is released later in the form of heat. There are also additional benefits in that the capture mechanism has greater efficiencies than traditional batteries and a laminate coating that stores energy, which can be applied to windows and textiles. The research team is led by Kasper Moth-Poulsen, who is now looking for investment to turn the concept into a commercial venture.
The team create a specialized storage unit, which Moth-Poulsen stated has the stability to outlast the typical 5-to 10-year life span of lithium-ion batteries. The laminate coating, which can be applied to windows and vehicles, absorbs solar energy, releases heat and is better suited to what might be term small application areas.
The big question now is can this technology produce electricity? Moth-Poulsen believes the potential exists, but for now the focus will remain on the heating component. The need for investment is self-evident and also to find ways to compress the timescales needed to commercialise such a venture. Currently the belief is that the storage unit could be commercially available within six years and the coating in three, subject to the requisite finance being available.
The other potential obstacle is the capex requirements for such technology and ensuring it is commercially viable from a cost perspective. The fact that it does not require rare or expensive components is a clear advantage. However, this development is a critical step forward in being able to commercialise energy conversion storage and has potentially possible applications in making solar energy a far more attractive proposition.