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Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Nov 03

MIT Breakthrough: Thermo-Chemical Solar Power

Posted in Energy Inventions | Future Technology | Solar Power

Thermo-Chemical Solar Power MIT researchers are hopeful of capturing and releasing solar energy with the help of thermo-chemical technology. Scientists were already working on this technology in seventies but this project was aborted due to its expensiveness and termed as too impractical to achieve. But MIT researchers are now gearing up to take this thermo-chemical technology that is supposed to convert solar energy into electrical energy.

Currently we depend on the photovoltaic cells that transform light energy into electricity. Thermo-chemical technology is a bit different. It traps the solar energy and stores it in the form of heat in molecules of chemicals. This heat energy can be converted and utilized by humans whenever the need arises. What happens in a conventional solar system is that heat gets leached away over time but when, heat is stored using the thermo-chemical fuel it remains stable.

Jeffrey Grossman is the associate Professor of Power Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. According to him this chemical-electrical process makes it possible to produce a “rechargeable heat battery” that can repeatedly store and release heat gathered from sunlight or other sources. In principle, Grossman said, when fuel made from fulvalene diruthenium is stored, heat is released, and it “can get as hot as 200 degrees C, plenty hot enough to heat your home, or even to run an engine to produce electricity.”

One of the major drawbacks of this project is they were depending on a chemical, ruthenium. This is a rare element and the cost is effectively is out of question. But the MIT team is still hopeful and they are saying that they have found out the exact working mechanism of ruthenium and soon they will find out another chemical element that will not be expensive and will be available easily in nature.

Jeffrey Grossman explains that fulvalene diruthenium shows the potential to replace ruthenium. Fulvalene diruthenium can absorb solar energy. After trapping solar energy it can achieve a higher-energy state where it can remain stable ad infinitum. If a stimulus can be given in the form of heat or a catalyst, it reverts to its unique shape, releasing heat in the process.

Professor Grossman states, “It takes many of the advantages of solar-thermal energy, but stores the heat in the form of a fuel. It’s reversible, and it’s stable over a long term. You can use it where you want, on demand. You could put the fuel in the sun, charge it up, then use the heat, and place the same fuel back in the sun to recharge.”

But the path to clean and green energy is not so easy. The MIT team has to tackle the challenges lying ahead. First they have to find out an easy way to synthesize the material in the laboratory that can absorb and trap heat inside it and secondly they have to search for a good catalyst that can release the trapped heat energy without much fuss.

  • Kalev Järvik

    This other chemical You are looking for is called wood and it grows outside. There are places where we can put more trees to grow and they have a tendency to reproduce themselves. They also gather CO from atmosphere and they cool down surrounding ground and some of them are quite pretty to the eye.

  • Howard Butts

    Utilizing one flat plate panel to make several forms of energy to make hot water or electricity, to store or use later is right on target.

  • Jos Conil

    This seems to be an innovation with a lot of possibilities. Stored thermal power can be helpful for power production and also for many industrial applications.

    Let’s wish the scientists at MIT all success.

  • lowell

    Though it really looks expensive at the moment what is important here is that they have some “other” way to do it. This is a very promising technology. I’m wishing this technology would be available sooner.

  • Asaf Shalgi

    Sounds like a good start. Hopefully fulvalene diruthenium will prove that it is cost efficient so that in the near future we’ll be able to use rechargeable heat batteries.

  • wayne leathers

    OK Howard, I agree!
    Where would one find these multi-use panels?

  • Dave

    sounds pretty much although it sucks that they need a substance that is rare. Not gonna be something easy on the wallet thats for sure.

  • styke

    It sounds like this gets hot enough to cook with.
    If solar heat can be used to heat water, heat the home at night when it is cold, and cook, then that would be a really great breakthrough. Glauber salts are good for heating, and not very expensive, but you need more and they can’t really get that hot.

  • VTenergyguy

    As the article stated this is not new technology. The company DyeSol in Australia has a commercial product available and licenses the technology to anyone that wants to manufacture it. Their process replicates photosynthesis, and produces electricity at a similar efficiency as PV. The beauty of this technology is that it is much cheaper to produce than PV panels and does not have anywhere near the manufacturing concerns associated with PV cells.

    There’s plenty of technology out there, just need some marketing and business masterminds to get it to the general public.

  • goldminor

    The ruthenium seems to be a bit of a bottleneck with this system. The estimated reserves for the metal are not large,and are primarily located in the USSR and Africa, the very same places that platinum is mined at. Maybe an alternative can be found.

  • Sage Peace Chariot

    …Along with wishing them a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Stories like this never seem to make it out of the laboratory, utilizing some sort of exotic and expensive ‘diruthenium’ material, whereas old worked-out technologies, such as GE’s ’79 patent for Glauber’s Salt ‘Phase Change Material’ (PCM) rotating cylinder heat retention system, are basically forgotten about.

    PCM can be a DIY formulation, can phase change from a solid to a liquid at either 90F or 120F, and will retain 5-10X more heat than water. There’s your heat retention, decentralized DIY ‘battery’.

    Learn all about it, way before it became ‘proprietory information’, back during the solar thermal ‘romantic era’, around 1979. Amazon .com has this used book for sale for a few $ (I have a copy) called, “New Inventions In Low Cost Solar Heating” by William Shurcliff. Buy it today, and become a ‘heat retention battery’ expert…and leave these so-called ‘MIT experts’ in the dust.

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