Solar Energy Storage Using Synthetic Molecules
What is the first thing that comes into mind whenever the topic of solar energy storage is brought up? Batteries of course, although a few alternative minds out there would probably first think of molten salts or even hydrogen. But while these mediums have their own strengths, their weaknesses often pull the entire efficiency rate of the solar system down.
What if there is another alternative solar energy storage medium that could efficiently bypass all of their weaknesses? Well, there isn’t actually one at the moment, but there is certainly hope for this new alternative solar energy storage medium to be one.
Researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology and UC Berkeley have developed a unique type of solar system that does not involve the use solar cells or heliostats. Instead, it uses a solar collector to channel light to a special synthetic molecule. This molecule, named as the fulvalene diruthenium, when exposed to sunlight exhibits properties that allows it to temporarily change its structure. Energy is extracted in this system in the form of heat, when the molecule is turned back into its original state using a catalyst. The system, in essence, stores solar energy in the form of chemical bonds.
The entire solar energy generation process of this new system is divided its 3 major components: the solar collector, catalytic reactor and heat exchanger. After the process of sunlight collection and molecule structure modification, the system could either store the molecule, or send it through a heat exchanger, where it would transfer the generated heat (when it is turned back to normal) for various purposes. The system is considerably comparable to an artificial photosynthetic system this way, although the most obvious difference of course is that it does not involve the collection and storage of a certain “hard-to-contain flammable gas”.
According to the report, the idea of using heat from thermochemical processes to produce usable energy dates as far back as the 1980’s. However certain limitations and issues of the early concepts back then prevented the idea from ever becoming practical. The thermochemical solar system that the researchers have developed, though fairly advanced in comparison, is still not actually efficient enough for actual use. However, their system does prove that the idea is not farfetched, and that it can indeed collect, store and generate energy.
In addition to the need to deal with the practical efficiency of the system, it also has the regular tech hurdle of being initially costly to manufacture. Further research for better and cheaper materials is still necessary before it could be marketed even if the issue of efficiency gets solved.
Still, even with these challenges, we still cannot deny that the idea holds promise, as it is the one of the unique solar energy innovations out there that uses a holistic approach that does not involve the use of multiple technologies.
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