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Ultra-thin chip stores solar energy for 18 years, powers electronic

Scientists have unveiled a revolutionary "ultra-thin" device that converts stored solar energy into electricity. This breakthrough marks

By Ground report
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Scientists have unveiled a revolutionary "ultra-thin" device that converts stored solar energy into electricity. This breakthrough marks a significant leap forward in the quest for efficient and sustainable solar-powered electronics for everyday use.

A Chinese-Swedish research group has developed an ultra-thin chip that can store solar energy for up to 18 years. The chip combines a Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage System (MOST) with a micro-fabricated system that includes a thermoelectric generator (TEG) and a microelectromechanical system (MEMS).

The MOST system uses a molecule that changes shape when exposed to sunlight, absorbing and storing energy. The molecule can then be stored in liquid form for later use, such as at night or in the winter. A catalyst releases the saved energy as heat while returning the molecule to its original shape, ready to be used again.

Ultra-thin chip converts solar energy to electricity

The origins of this transformative technology can be traced back to a pioneering energy system created by researchers at a Swedish university in 2017. This system allowed for the capture and storage of solar energy for extended periods, releasing it as heat when required.

Between some tried and true methods, as well as recent R&D projects, there are interesting ways to directly store the sun’s photons as heat or in a chemical form, like that liquid I mentioned earlier that can store it for up to 18 years. Before getting to that one, let’s start with some of the tried and true methods to see how they compare and where this could potentially go.

Professor Kasper Moth-Poulsen, the research leader from the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers, describes this achievement as a "radically new way of generating electricity from solar energy." Unlike traditional solar systems that rely solely on sunlight, this innovation ensures a continuous supply of electricity irrespective of weather conditions, time of day, season, or location.

Radical’ Solar Breakthrough Allows Energy to Now Be Stored for Up to 18 Years. Chalmers University of Technology/Daniel Spacek

"This is a game-changer in the field of renewable energy," expresses Professor Moth-Poulsen. "We envision a future where self-charging electronics powered by stored solar energy become the norm."

One of the persistent challenges of solar energy has been its intermittency, primarily dependent on daylight hours. However, ongoing technological advancements are rapidly addressing this limitation. For instance, solar panels made from UV-absorbing waste crops can harness solar energy even on cloudy days. Additionally, "night solar panels" have been developed to continue generating electricity after sunset.

Solar tech milestone: global potential

In a recent study published in Cell Reports Physical Science, researchers have achieved a significant milestone in solar energy technology, showcasing its global potential for clean electricity generation. The innovative model developed by Swedish scientists has been successfully tested beyond its origins, demonstrating its ability to harness solar energy in one part of the world and convert it into electricity in another.

Lead researcher Zhihang Wang from Chalmers University of Technology highlights the groundbreaking achievement, stating, “The generator is an ultra-thin chip that could be integrated into electronics such as headphones, smartwatches, and telephones.” This advancement not only paves the way for energy-efficient devices but also presents a potential alternative to traditional batteries and solar cells, optimizing the utilization of solar power.

The unique system, known as Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage Systems (MOST), involves a specially designed molecule that stores solar energy for extended periods. Collaborating with colleagues at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the Swedish researchers successfully released and converted solar energy into electricity using the developed generator.

"The new results show that the concept works. It looks very promising," Wang notes regarding the successful generation of electricity from stored solar energy.

Despite these promising developments, researchers caution that widespread integration of the technology into daily life will require further research and development efforts. Professor Kasper Moth-Poulsen underscores this point, stating, “Together with the various research groups included in the project, we are now working to streamline the system,” says Moth-Poulsen. “The amount of electricity or heat it can extract needs to be increased.”

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