One major obstacle to harnessing the true potentials of the sun's energy is that there is no efficient means of harvesting and storing it. A breakthrough made by University of Copenhagen student Anders Bo Skov, however, could pave way for scientists to harvest solar energy and save it for use later on.

Anders and his team were working on "Dihydroazulene-Vinylheptafulvene", a system that attempts to develop molecules that can harvest and hold substantial amounts of solar energy for a significant amount of time and release it when needed.

For these molecules to store energy, they were made to change shape. Unfortunately, the technique isn't void of challenges. One problem is that once the capability of the molecule to store energy improves, the time for which this energy could be stored is reduced and vice versa.

The researchers were likewise able to double the energy density of the molecule so that it will be able to stay in the same shape for 100 years but the molecule did not return to its original shape so it failed to release the energy that it stored.

"Regardless of what we did to prevent it, the molecules would change their shape back and release the stored energy after just an hour or two," said Ander's supervisor Mogens Brøndsted. "Anders' achievement was that he managed to double the energy density in a molecule that can hold its shape for a hundred years. Our only problem now is how we get it to release the energy again. The molecule does not seem to want to change its shape back again."

With the technique employed by the team, a kilogram of the specially designed molecules could save a megajoule of energy, which is enough to boil 3 liters of water at room temperature. In experiments conducted by the researchers, they found that a kilo of these molecules can boil 75 centiliters in three minutes, which translates to the molecules being able to boil 15 liters of water per hour.

Although the researchers have yet to come up with a way to release energy on demand, they are optimistic that they are on the right track given the results of their experiments. They are likewise ecstatic about the idea that the method does not only harvest green energy. It is nn-toxic as well. It does not release and involves the use of harmful chemical compounds such as carbon dioxide. 

Photo: Martin Cathrae | Flickr 

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