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Material Developed for the Efficient Storage and Release of Solar Heat

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 07:15AM
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Conservation of energy tells us that energy cannot can neither be created nor destroyed, but can be converted to different forms. Because the Sun provides us with so much energy, many are trying to find efficient ways to convert sunlight into something more useful, like electricity or heat, but storage becomes a problem. The Sun does not shine the entire day, so that energy is not always available, but researchers at MIT may have an interesting and very effective solution.

Currently many methods for storing the energy of Sunlight involve converting it to electricity, which is not always efficient. Instead the MIT researchers have examined how to store solar heat by a chemical reaction, which can easily be undone to release the energy on demand. This work builds on previous work, where the material involved was a liquid, but now it is a solid state polymer. When Sunlight strikes the molecules in the polymer, they are kicked into a new configuration with greater energy, and can stay there for long periods of time. By hitting it with a specific stimulus, like a jolt of heat, light, or electricity, the molecules will fall back to a configuration with a lower energy state, releasing the difference as heat.

This polymer material is based on azobenzenes and can be made very easily and cheaply with a two-step process. It can also be made into transparent thin films, which is important as those both open up possibilities. One potential application is as a film on car windshields that can store up solar heat and then release it to suddenly melt ice that may have built up on them. The researchers are currently working to remove a slight yellow tint to the material, making it more transparent, and increase its ability to release bursts of heat. Currently the bursts can be about 10 ºC over the ambient temperature, but they think they can reach 20 ºC.

Source: MIT



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