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A radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy – even during nights

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A radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy – even during nights

Researchers have taken a step forward in developing an energy system that can catch solar energy, store it for up to eighteen years, and then release it when and where it is needed.

After demonstrating how energy may be extracted as heat, they have now demonstrated how to connect the system to a thermoelectric generator to generate electricity.

The research, which was conducted at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, could eventually lead to self-charging gadgets that use stored solar energy on demand.

“It means,” according to research leader Kasper Moth-Poulsen, “that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location. It is a closed system that can operate without causing carbon dioxide emissions.”

The new technology is based on the Chalmers University of Technology-developed solar energy system MOST – Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems. Just like any other molecule, this one has been designed to change its shape when exposed to the sun.

The latest work, which was conducted in partnership with researchers in Shanghai and published in Cell Reports Physical Science, expands on the solar energy system by describing how it may be paired with a tiny thermoelectric generator to transform solar energy into electricity.

Heat is turned into electricity by an ultra-thin chip

The Swedish researchers transferred their specifically built molecule, which was filled with solar energy, to Shanghai Jiao Tong University colleagues Tao Li and Zhiyu Hu, where the energy was released and transformed into power using a generator they developed. Basically, sunlight from Sweden was sent to China and used to generate electricity.

“The generator is an ultra-thin chip that could be integrated into electronics such as headphones, smart watches and telephones. So far, we have only generated small amounts of electricity, but the new results show that the concept really works. It looks very promising,” adds researcher Zhihang Wang from Chalmers University of Technology.

Free of fossil fuels and emissions

The research offers a lot of potential for producing renewable and emission-free energy. However, much more research and development is required before we can use the system’s stored solar energy to charge our electronic devices or heat our homes.

“Together with the various research groups included in the project, we are now working to streamline the system. The amount of electricity or heat it can extract needs to be increased. Even if the energy system is based on simple basic materials, it needs to be adapted to be sufficiently cost-effective to produce, and thus possible to launch more broadly,” adds Kasper Moth-Poulsen.

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