By studying a type of crystalline material commonly used to desalinate or filter water, the researchers of the Lancaster University they realized that it was an extremely effective method of capturing and storing solar energy.
The breakthrough paves the way for a whole new range of applications for solar energy storage. A breakthrough that would be radical in a world where batteries and other existing technologies are still impractical or too expensive.
Accumulating and conserving solar energy: possible applications
The discovered material could be used in many ways. For example, it could be used as a cladding on buildings to store solar energy in the summer, to be used as heat in the winter season.
Another potential application, the researchers say, would be a thin, transparent film on car windows and windshields that could quickly thaw them on freezing mornings.
Still: remote places or off-grid systems they could also benefit from the material's ability to store solar energy over long periods of time.
How does the material that can accumulate solar energy and store it for a long time?
The material works a bit like the phase change ones, the ones that are used to provide heat in the hand warmers.
"However, while the hand warmers need to be heated to recharge them, the great thing about this material is that it captures free energy directly from the sun," says Dr. John Griffin of Lancaster University, the principal investigator involved in this study.
A solar spring
Another valuable feature of this material is the fact that it has no moving or electronic parts, and therefore there are no losses involved in the accumulation and release of solar energy.
The energy collected by the material is stored similar to a compressed spring, which means it can be released very quickly when required.
The research team was able to store solar energy in the material for four months at room temperature, but estimates it can store solar energy and hold a charge up to four and a half years.
The research is contained in a published paper in the scientific journal Chemistry Materials.