The sun gives life to plants and microorganisms, provides us with warmth and daylight, and is an endless source of renewable energy. By all accounts, solar energy should be our first choice for heating our water and homes and powering our cars, but there’s just one problem that has stumped the solar industry for quite some time – the issue of storage. Scientists have struggled to find a cheap and efficient way to store the energy generated by solar power for the long-term.
That is, until now. A team from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden has developed a specialized solar thermal fuel that can store energy from the sun for up to eighteen years .
This thermal fuel is actually a molecule, called norbornadiene (pronounced nor-born-a-dye-een) in liquid form, and the team at Chalmers has been working on improving it since 2018 .
Until now, the best method we have come up with to store solar energy is in the form of a battery. Tesla has been leading the charge in developing this technology, and while it is very effective, it’s expensive. To have the company’s new Powerwall system installed in your home, it’ll cost approximately 20 thousand dollars . Not surprisingly, this cost is prohibitive for most people who want to power their homes with renewable energy.
The team in Sweden is hoping that this new technology will give more people the opportunity to power their homes with sunlight.”A solar thermal fuel is like a rechargeable battery, but instead of electricity, you put sunlight in and get heat out, triggered on demand,” says Jeffrey Grossman, who leads a lab at MIT that works on such materials .
This new technology uses a process called photoisomerization to convert norbornadiene (NBD) into its isomer, quadricyclane (QC) .
Before going any further, let’s get a few things straight:
Isomers are two molecules that are made up of the same atoms (let’s say, they have the same “ingredients”), but these atoms are arranged differently in space . Think of isomers like a pair of gloves: both gloves have four fingers and a thumb, but a right-hand glove will only fit the right hand, and a left-hand glove will only the left hand. In this case, our two isomers are norbornadiene (NBD) and quadricyclane (QC) both are made up of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen, but these atoms are in different sequences.