- storage and use
Swedes ‘Capture the Sun’
In a research paper published in the March edition of Energy & Environmental Science, Professor Kasper Moth Poulsen, of Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, explains: “The dream is to create a universal solar battery that releases heat on demand.”
80% Efficient Super Heat
The team’s paper, “Exploring the potential of a hybrid device combining solar water heating and molecular solar thermal energy storage”, claims potential to release heat at up to 238°C. It shows the way to store solar energy in chemical form, transport it to where it is needed, then release it as heat with an efficiency of up to 80%. By contrast a PV module has a maximum conversion rate of only 20%. (read paper)
10 x Present Efficiency
According to Professor Poulsen, some of the most efficient systems in the world right now are capable of heating something 10°C. The molecules his team has made should in principle be capable of heating something more than 100°C.
The discovery has the potential to solve a number of solar energy problems, including storing and moving the energy so that it can be released at the right time and place. Although not yet cheap enough to compete with conventional space heating, it already has specialist applications, like providing heat in remote locations or harsh environments without access to full-time power, and where “the cost of delivering fuel enhances the competitiveness of renewable approaches”.
Chemical Capture + Catalytic Release
Using norbornadiene, an organic compound that alters double-bonds to single-bonds on exposure to sunlight to become quadricyclane to store the Sun’s energy, the energy is then released by adding a catalyst to reverse the process. This enhances the efficiency of non-photovoltaic solar receptors, which are able to make use of the full spectrum of sunlight. A YouTube video explaining the research can be viewed here.
Indefinite Cyclical Process
The research claims to demonstrate a robust system that can sustain more than 140 energy storage and release cycles with negligible degradation. Further research will aim to make the chemical constituents cheaper and the catalyst less toxic. Making the liquid safer would allow the system to be used for applications such as portable cooking devices that can be “charged” with sunlight and used to cook after the sun has gone down.
Breaking the Solar Barrier
While breaking the barrier to commercialisation in a very competitive solar landscape may be difficult, breakthroughs are likely, given the relative youth of solar technologies and the current worldwide trend to phase out fossil fuels.
Autonomous Housing may Challenge Planning
Such developments, along with direct battery storage for PV electricity and satellite communications, hold out the potential for totally autonomous housing – anywhere. Removed from the need to connect to ‘services’, integrating such technology with design and manufacture could release almost limitless areas of land for ‘occupation’. This concept in itself presents a challenge for ‘Town & Country’ Planners, and perhaps the need to revisit the question of ‘what is planning for?’ For us, the whole process of designing for, engineering, manufacturing and building ‘Off-Site’ manufactured houses, now has to be a process embracing ‘spatial planning’, as well as one of continuous product improvement.
Pause for Thought on Massive Factory Pre-Fabrication
Such concepts also challenge the long-term need to produce hundreds of thousands of ‘look alike’ pre-fabricated homes. If ‘autonomous’ homes can be located anywhere, then land and infrastructure costs become secondary to the quality of place and the homes occupying it. Potentially this could free architectural design from the strictures of present day commercial housing development, enabling ‘better’, ‘larger’, ‘smaller’, ‘interesting’, ‘enjoyable’, ‘vernacular’ homes to be provided. If so, then demand is more likely to be for one-off and short batch run produced homes and other buildings. As long standing Chartered Building Consultants (CIOBC) this forms part of our approach to pre-fabrication. It helps us deliver the high quality homes that architects and their clients want at prices they can afford. We welcome approaches for the development of new ideas and methods.