Energy storage is equally important as energy generation and the same can be seen in the everyday-life batteries that we use. The more energy they can store, the more efficient they are considered for use. The same applies to any harnessing energy from any source, including our Sun.
In a breakthrough discovery, researchers at Lancaster University have discovered a crystalline material that has properties allowing it to capture energy from the sun.
The researchers claims that the material can store this energy for several months at room temperature and can even release it on demand as heat.
The discovery shows a pathway to further development on such materials that can, in future, solve the energy crisis being faced by humans. Such materials can effectively help store the solar energy during summer for use in winter when it is sparse.
Interestingly, the material can also be produced as a thin coating and applied to the surface of buildings. Similar applications can be found on the windscreens of cars for an independent heating system that is off the grid. These can be particularly useful in cold and remote locations.
Promising material for storing solar energy
As per a study published in the journal Chemistry of Materials, the material is described to be based on a type of metal-organic framework (MOF). These are essentially 3-D structures formed by a network of metal ions linked by carbon-based molecules.
MOFs are porous and can hence accommodate other small molecules within their structures to form composite materials. The team at Lancaster put this use to store energy, a previously unknown property for such materials.
The composite that the teams chose was called ‘DMOF1’ and had been prepared by a separate research team at Kyoto University in Japan. The researchers then loaded the MOF pores with molecules of azobenzene, a compound known for absorbing light.
As the compound was exposed to UV light in tests, the fused azobenzene molecules were found to change their shape to a strained configuration inside the MOF pores. They were thus trapped inside the composite structure just as a bent spring traps potential energy, for at least four months.
More importantly, this change in structure was observed at room temperature, meaning an even easier storage of solar energy. This energy could further be released when external heat is applied as a trigger. This release can be quick, much like a spring’s, and can hence provide a heat boost to warm other materials.
The researchers will further study other MOF structures as well as alternative types of crystalline materials for an even greater energy storage potential.