By: Tim Sandle
Boston – Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a remarkable battery that can capture solar energy and then store the energy to be used as heat at a later point in time. The energy is released on exposure to light.
The application of the battery could be of use to rural areas or in the developing world where access to electricity is limited. Furthermore, the technology may also appeal to be people in mire developed areas who simply wish to reduce their carbon continuation by cutting down on the amount of electricity they use.
A further application would be at times of national emergency, for times when power is lost as the result of a hurricane, flood or earthquake.
The technology behind the battery is a chemical composite that will only release stored energy when it comes into contact with light of the ultraviolet wavelength. The battery aspect of the design allows the energy to be stored. The chemical composite is made from fatty acids. These function as phase changing materials; the acids are twined with an organic compound that responds to light.
This arrangement melts when heated like normal; however, when exposed to light the material remains melted. When a second light pulse activates the compound this triggers the acids to return to their pre-heated solid state, which releases thermal energy.
In practice, the battery could collect energy that would otherwise be wasted, such as from heating an office or operating a piece of machinery in a factory, for later use.
This leads to a concept for energy consumption whereby energy collection is decentralized from a supply grid and an alternative means of generation is produced. If successful and manufactured on a commercial scale this type of technology could significantly disrupt the operations of energy supply companies.
Speaking with the website Inverse about the technology, the lead researcher Professor Jeffrey Grossman said: “There are so many applications where it would be useful to store thermal energy in a way lets you trigger it when needed.”
The researcher goes on to explain that the energy storage and release design could simply be the starting point of new methods for capturing and using energy. Other phase changing materials could store energy when exposed to heat and turn into liquids.
The research findings are published in journal Nature Communications. The peer-reviewed paper is titled “Optically-controlled long-term storage and release of thermal energy in phase-change materials.”