Scientists have reportedly harnessed the sun’s energy through a specialized liquid they call solar thermal fuel.
A team of researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden announced the development of a specialized fluid that can reportedly absorb energy from the sun. They also reported their ability to store it for months or years, releasing it only when needed.
The breakthrough innovation, known as solar thermal fuel, could possibly put an end to fossil fuel usage and help solve the current global warming crisis.
According to the researchers, unlike fossil fuels, solar thermal fuels are environmentally friendly as they are reusable. Furthermore, the specialized liquid doesn’t produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases that are harmful to the atmosphere.
“A solar thermal fuel is like a rechargeable battery, but instead of electricity, you put sunlight in and get heat out, triggered on demand,” Jeffrey Grossman, an MIT engineer who works with the materials, explained.
Turning the Sun’s Energy to Solar Thermal Fuel
According to the Swedish scientists, the specialized fluid is actually a liquid form of a molecule. The molecule’s chemical composition is a mixture of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. When the sun’s rays then hit the molecules, they rearrange and energize themselves, turning into isomers.
The isomers’ chemical bonds trap the energy from the sun. They then store it even after the molecule cools down to room temperature. Then, when users require the stored solar power, a catalyst can draw out the fluid and return it into its original form, producing heat energy.
Researchers claim that they can store the solar thermal fuel and convert it into usable energy in an emission-free energy device. The team described the device as a concave reflector with a pipe in the center for tracking the Sun.
The researchers placed a prototype of the energy system on the rooftop of a university building to test its effectivity. The researchers claimed that the results of their initial test have already gained the attention of many investors.
“The energy in this isomer can now be stored for up to 18 years. And when we come to extract the energy and use it, we get a warmth increase which is greater than we dared hope for,” Kasper Moth-Poulsen, a nanomaterials scientist from the Chalmers University, said.
Aside from powering homes, the researchers claim that the fuel’s thermal energy also has many industrial applications. However, they admit that their innovation is still a work in progress that requires more years of research. You can find the team’s work published in the journal Nature Communications.