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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Scientists generate solar power in the dark

ScienceAlert Staff      
Molecules known as photoswitches can absorb energy from the sun, store it and release it on demand, and researchers have devised a way to use them in domestic environments.
Image: NASA
When exposed to the sun, photoswitches absorb energy that is stable for long periods. To liberate the energy, all you have to do is expose the molecules to a very small amount of light, heat or electricity, explained Todd Woody at The Atlantic. The challenge, however, is to use photoswitches to make technology that releases energy on demand and can be easily installed in houses or offices. 
Researchers used a chemical compound known as azobenzene and carbon nanotubes to generate solar power from photoswitches, and they succeeded in producing molecular solar storage technology that can be used at night to produce electricity. Commercialisation is now the big question. 
Timothy Kurcharski, lead author of the study published in Nature Chemistry, told The Atlantic that the technology could be used in developing nations and will most likely be stored in liquid form, as it would be easy to transport.
The users will need to store the liquid in a tank that is near a window to make sure the molecules receive energy from the sun, and then the charged liquid would need to be transported to a storage tank, where it will remain until needed. 
“For solar cooking, one would leave the device out in the sun during the day,” Kucharski explained. “One design we have for such an application is purely gravity driven – the material flows from one tank to another. The flow rate is restricted so that it's exposed to the sun long enough that it gets fully charged. Then, when it's time to cook dinner, after the sun is down, the flow direction is reversed, again driven by gravity, and the opposite side of the setup is used as the cooking surface… As the material flows back to the first tank, it passes by an immobilized catalyst which triggers the energy-releasing process, heating the cooking surface up.”
So yes, solar power in the dark is now a reality. Thank you, science!
Source: The Atlantic

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