Possible Solar Storage Breakthrough Could be Game Changer

November 4, 2019



For decades, scientists have sought an affordable and effective way of capturing, storing, and releasing solar energy. Researchers in Sweden say they have a solution that would allow the power of the sun’s rays to be used across a range of consumer applications—heating everything from homes to vehicles.

Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg have figured out how to harness the energy and keep it in reserve so it can be released on demand in the form of heat—even decades after it was captured. The innovations include an energy-trapping molecule, a storage system that promises to outperform traditional batteries, at least when it comes to heating, and an energy-storing laminate coating that can be applied to windows and textiles. The breakthroughs, from a team led by researcher Kasper Moth-Poulsen, have garnered praise within the scientific community. Now comes the real test: whether Moth-Poulsen can get investors to back his technology and take it to market.

The system starts with a liquid molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. When hit by sunlight, the molecule draws in the sun’s energy and holds it until a catalyst triggers its release as heat. The researchers spent almost a decade and $2.5 million to create a specialized storage unit, which Moth-Poulsen, a 40-year-old professor in the department of chemistry and chemical engineering, says has the stability to outlast the 5-to 10-year life span of typical lithium-ion batteries on the market today.

The most advanced potential commercial use the team developed is a transparent coating that can be applied to home windows, a moving vehicle, or even clothing. The coating collects solar energy and releases heat, reducing electricity required for heating spaces and curbing carbon emissions. Moth-Poulsen is coating an entire building on campus to showcase the technology. The ideal use in the early going, he says, is in relatively small spaces. “This could be heating of electrical vehicles or in houses.”

A big unknown is whether the system can produce electricity. While Moth-Poulsen believes the potential exists, his team is focused for now on heating. His research group is one of about 15 trying to tackle climate change with molecular thermal solar systems. Part of what motivates them is the Paris Agreement, which commits signatories to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C (2.7F).

Moth-Poulsen plans to spin off a company that would advance the technology and says he’s in talks with venture capital investors. The storage unit could be commercially available in as little as six years and the coating in three, pending the $5 million of additional funding he estimates will be needed to bring the coating to market. In May he won the Arnbergska Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for his solar energy projects.

The professor doesn’t have precise cost estimates for the technology but is aware that it will need to be affordable. One cost advantage is that the system doesn’t need any rare or expensive elements. Jeffrey Grossman, a professor in the department of materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s also developing energy storage molecules, calls the Chalmers University team’s work “crucial if we want to see this energy conversion storage approach commercialized.”

Peter Schossig, who runs the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg, Germany, says he wants to help turn the Swedish team’s research into a product. But, he says, “There’s still a ways to go.”

21 Responses to “Possible Solar Storage Breakthrough Could be Game Changer”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Sell your Solar Roadway stock, folks,and invest in this! And don’t forget to STOP worrying about the looming climate catastrophe—–with geniuses like this coming up with such AMAZING technology, we can burn fossil fuels for a bit longer.

    And—–If we can paint these molecules on a couple of billion people in south and east Asia, maybe we can let them burn even more coal as they try to match western lifestyles and consumption levels.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Arm yourselves with melted butter and plastic bibs – the attack of the giant lobsters has begun!!

      Geez Louise – how can you not be excited about the 14,384,758th laboratory “breakthrough” of the month?

      This one looks like it has real glop you can really spread on real windows to heat something with.

      So fed up with all the cynicism of kids these days……..

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Lots of tech companies flared and died in the 1990s tech bubble. In aggregate, though, a lot of technological advances were made. I predict the same thing from the race for effective energy capture-and-storage technology, which will only increase as more kids with the relevant engineering education start graduating into the market.

      Meanwhile, I would never invest in a single company or technology: That’s a loser’s game (with the exception of a few very savvy insiders).

      • dumboldguy Says:

        The problem is this—–the “original sin” of burning fossil fuels was so LOW tech and easy—-just light them up and use them to boil some water to make steam. The answer is low tech also, IF we choose to take it—-just stop burning the stuff. Of course, we have too many rising “stable tech geniuses” and market believers who think that innovation, technology, and economic growth are going to solve the problem (and make them rich along the way).

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    In these countries about a third of energy is used for heating. So these new systems can indeed help securing renewable energy supply.

  3. Greg Wellman Says:

    I don’t get it. If sunlight falls on a window, pretty close to 100% of the sunlight that gets through the window will be converted to heat inside because it hits *something*. So a well insulated building with south-facing (assuming northern hemisphere) windows can be solar heated without any special heat absorption. Or do they want to use it as thermal mass to shift the heating to night-time and cloudy days?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I think the trick here is conversion to longer-term storage.

      BTW, 3.22057% of all sunlight coming through windows hits a cat.

      • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

        Cats are hit by 4.33389% of sunlight. Chek your fakts.

      • Greg Wellman Says:

        But if it’s a coating, where is the long term storage? If, on the other hand it ispumped in liquid form between the panes of a double (or more) glazed window, it could absorb heat on sunny days, be stored in a tank, and then released on colder, cloudier days. So the liquid form makes sense, but there is something missing from the description of how the coating would be used.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        As a dog admirer, I am a bit put put by the anti-canine bias displayed here. Yes, cats may be better than dogs at sleeping in sunny spots, but dogs are not slouches there—-since the average dog is 4.88273 times bigger than a cat, their heat absorbing capacity is not inconsiderable.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          (put OUT…..keys keep changing places)

        • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

          Yes, but dogs are forever being distracted by greeting their people, bringing slippers and protecting children. Cats on the other hand are conscientious ray absorb-ers,

  4. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    So the laws of thermodynamics are bypassed by turning heat into potential energy?
    Hmmm! Interesting, be nice.

  5. grindupbaker Says:

    I’m not very technical. There’s sunlight coming in. It uses carbon, hydrogen, other stuff and stores it all till you need it. Is it trees ? You chop them down & burn them ?

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