A radical new system to generate energy on demand from solar power no matter what the weather has been hailed a radical breakthrough by Swedish scientists.
Users will be able to power up gadgets and even their homes with stored solar energy in an emissions-free, carbon-neutral closed loop.
And solar power could be stored for up to 18 years before it is released on demand.
Researcher Kasper Moth-Poulsen explained: “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.”
Moth-Poulsen, who co-authored a paper in Cell Reports Physical Science, added: “It is a closed system that can operate without causing carbon dioxide emissions.”
The paper describes a new technology that takes the molecular solar thermal energy storage (MOST) systems developed at Chalmers University of Technology, in Gothenburg, in 2017, a step further.
MOST uses a unique, shape-shifting molecule of nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen that is changed by sunlight into an energy-rich isomer, which consists of the same atoms albeit rearranged.
This energy can be stored for 18 years and, when released by a catalyst, turned into heat while the unique molecule reverts to its original state.
Solar power systems and storage, even with recent refinements, are expensive and use a lot of space.
Also, night-time and cloudy days cut or limit solar panels’ efficiency.
To produce electricity with the new technology, the authors essentially sent Swedish sunshine around the globe to China for conversion.
Collaborating with Chinese co-authors Tao Li and Zhiyu Hu, the researchers released the energy stored by MOST, converting it into electricity on demand with a tiny thermoelectric generator developed in Shanghai.
Co-author Zhihang Wang said: “The generator is an ultra-thin chip that could be integrated into electronics such as headphones, smart watches and telephones.
“So far, we have only generated small amounts of electricity, but the new results show that the concept really works.”
According to the co-authors, this means homes and electronics could become powered with renewable, emissions-free energy day or night, thanks to MOST and the micrometre-thin thermoelectric generator.
Stating that the researchers are streamlining the system, Moth-Poulsen said that they need to increase the heat and electricity extracted.
He said: “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.”