updated - January 22, 2018 Monday EST
A team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University have found a way to use nanotubes to absorb heat from the sun and store solar energy for later use.
The discovery poses a chance to expand the use of solar power, especially in areas that require heat such as heating buildings, cooking or powering heat-based industrial processes, according to Nanowerk.
"It could change the game, since it makes the sun's energy, in the form of heat, storable and distributable," said Jeffrey Grossman, co-author of the study and associate professor of power and engineering at MIT.
The results were documented in a paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry. The lead author of the paper is Timothy Kucharski, a postdoc at MIT and Harvard.
The team showed that nanotubes that carry a high density of azobenzene chromophores bind closely together, with the chromophores assembling between each other, Chemistry World reported. The connection strains the molecules and more than doubles the energy they store.
Photoswitches are molecules that form two shapes when exposed to sunlight, and reform in their original shape by producing heat when electricity passes through them, News Tonight Africa reported. These molecules are capable of storing energy from the Sun for an unstated length of time, and can release the energy immediately.
The researchers said that the material can store a sufficient amount of heat, even after gaining almost half of the density that the researchers were looking for.
Kasper Moth-Poulsen, who studies thermal fuels at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, said the study was the first time that he had seen 'templating' effect that the chromophores had, Chemistry World reported.
"The most notable aspects are the factor of two increase in energy storage and the ability to operate the system through more than 2000 cycles without significant degradation," Moth-Poulsen said.
The team is looking to get nanotubes to charge solar energy as quickly as possible.
"One target that seems within reach is to be able to charge enough fuel during a single day's sunlight hours to cook a dinner for a family," Kucharski said.
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