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New Material Absorbs and Stores Solar Energy

Researchers at Lancaster University in the UK studied a crystalline solid material with parts such as atoms, molecules, or ions that are arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure, and discovered it has properties that allow it to capture solar energy.

The crystalline material is based on a type of “metal-organic framework” (MOF), which consists of a network of metal ions — atoms or molecules with a net electric charge — linked by carbon-based molecules to form 3-D structures. MOFs are porous, so they can form composite materials by hosting other small molecules within their structures. The MOF composite is a solid, so it is chemically stable and easily contained.

The Lancaster research team wanted to find out if a MOF composite known as DMOF1, previously prepared by a research team at Japan’s Kyoto University, could be used to store energy. That had never been researched before.

The MOF pores were loaded with molecules of azobenzene, a compound that strongly absorbs light. These molecules act as photoswitches that can change shape when an external stimulus, such as light or heat, is applied. The researchers exposed the material to UV light, which caused the azobenzene molecules to change shape to a strained configuration inside the MOF pores, like a bent spring. The narrow MOF pores trap the azobenzene molecules in their strained shape, so the potential energy can be stored for long periods of time at room temperature.

When external heat is applied as a trigger to “switch” its state, the energy is released again, like a spring snapping straight. This provides heat that can be used to warm other materials.

It seems like this is the first try at the slow glass rod from The Exalted by L. Sprague de Camp:

He held a contraption made of a glass rod and assorted wires. Methuen sighted along his glass rod and pressed a button. A pop... and a flash!

"By applying the right e.m.f. to pure crown glass, its possible to raise its index of refraction to a remarkable degree. The result is that the light striking the glass is so slowed up that it takes weeks to pass through it in the ordinary manner. The light that is thus trapped can be released by making a small spark near the glass.
(Read more about the slow glass rod)

Update 10-Mar-2021: In his 1940 story Let There Be Light, Robert Heinlein (writing as Lyle Monroe) describes a solar power screen:

"...why can't we cut a crystal that would have a natural frequency in the octave of visible light?"

"...these crystals have the property of flexing when electrical charges are applied to them..."

Thanks to SMOF for contributing to this article. End update.

Via Electrek.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/1/2020)

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