Advances in materials science are producing extraordinary developments in the energy storage space. A research team from Chalmers University in Sweden recently developed a solar thermal fuel that can store energy long-term and discharge it on demand as heat.
The energy storage capacity of this fluid relies on an isomer—the chemical conversion of a molecule into a different arrangement with the same number of atoms. The fuel, norobornadiene, is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen molecules. When it comes into contact with sunlight, the bonds between atoms are rearranged to form a different molecule: quadricyclane. This structural change traps energy within the molecule.
The charged version of the molecule is stable, so it can effectively hold energy long-term—for up to 18 years. The stored energy can be released when the fluid is passed through a catalyst that rearranges the molecules.
To discharge the energy, the fluid is funneled through a catalyst that converts the molecules back to their original form. During trials, the researchers discovered that the catalyst process heated up the fuel by 113°F. They determined that the heated fluid could be used to heat buildings.
With that goal in mind, they developed a closed thermal loop system that absorbs energy from the sun and capitalizes on heat from the catalyst process to heat buildings. With additional development and testing, the team believes that it can produce a molecule that heats the fuel by 176°F, possibly making it capable for use for energy production.
“We have made many crucial advances recently, and today we have an emissions-free energy system which works all year around,” says nanomaterials scientist Kasper Moth-Poulsen of Chalmers University.
What are your impressions of this innovative thermal fluid? It appears as if it could serve a number of purposes as a thermal energy storage technology. What other potential uses do you envision?