A team of researchers from Lancaster University in the UK have invented a whole new way to store energy from the Sun for several months at a time, with the option of releasing it on demand in the form of heat.
The goal is to be able to capture and store significant amounts of solar energy during the much brighter and sunnier summer months for use in winter. In fact, their proposed method could allow for supplemental heating in both houses and offices, greatly reducing their environmental footprint.
The researchers developed a “metal-organic framework” that consists of metal ions webbed together into three-dimensional structures. Special molecules loaded into the pores of these frameworks are able to absorb UV light and can change their shape when light or heat is applied.
These special molecules can remain trapped at room temperature until external heat is applied to switch their state, like a bent spring snapping back.
Tests showed that the material was able to store energy for more than four months.
“The material functions a bit like phase change materials, which are used to supply heat in hand warmers,” Lancaster University senior lecturer John Griffin, co-author of a paper about the research published in the journal Chemistry of Materials, said in a statement.