Look no further than this week’s climate strikes for evidence that millions of people are passionate about curbing global warming.
But even potential solutions, like alternative meats, have their own challenges. Some scientists are putting their focus on the sun to help balance out our energy consumption.
In fact, they are gathering solar power so pure that, until recently, capturing it was an impossibility.
A group of Swedish scientists has created a liquid called norbornadiene. This liquid sunshine can capture up to 30 percent of raw solar power. To put it in perspective, the best publicly available solar panels can harness 21 percent. Norbornadiene would bring in about 50 percent more power – a significant difference in energy efficiency.
Most notably, unlike relatively limited solar panel energy storage, norbornadiene can potentially maintain its potency for years. We could have the ability to collect and store premium solar power, making it easier for current and future generations to use fossil and nuclear fuel alternatives.
“The norbornadiene molecules that we have made have very good properties, in terms of solar energy capture efficiency, storage time and energy density,” says team lead Dr. Kasper Moth-Poulson of the Chamlers University of Technology. “They can store energy without the need for insulation materials for 18 or more years.”
Swedish scientist Moth-Poulsen and his team have been testing the norbornadiene on the physics building roof at the Chalmers University of Technology. Once activated, it heats up to just below boiling and provides enough power to be useful.
It requires potentially toxic solvents, like a cobalt-based activator, to transform into its full potential. The team is currently trying to find less-hazardous catalysts to help transform the norbornadiene to its active form, quadricyclane. Exposing it to sunlight is the main way to reactivate the norbornadiene’s power. Over time, scientists will likely make it more efficient with less toxic agents.
The energy density is 250 watt-hours per kilogram, twice the strength of Tesla’s popular Powerall battery.
The biggest question is safety, perceived or otherwise: Are you ready to drive around with 250 kWh of pure solar in your Hyundai? Norbornadiene may be stable in a hermetically sealed lab, but sculpting it for everyday use requires another level of security.
The half-life of the sunshine power is also an estimate, too. The challenge with new scientific substances is you don’t know how the matter will evolve over time. It is easy to be overly optimistic about this one discovery being the key to our energy needs. For the time being, it is wiser to look at norbornadiene as a progressive step rather than a revolutionary one.
Even at its least effective, norbornadiene and its related material is a step toward us utilizing the one natural resource that won’t run out for generations. In the short-term, a stable form of it could offset our fossil and nuclear fuel use and even help lower the carbon footprint made by long-distance transportation. It will be fascinating to see what future aircraft builders, home designers and even car manufacturers do as the solar technology conversation heats up.
Moth-Poulsen wants norbornadiene to be a definitive part of the climate change puzzle.
“I hope that in five years, we will see the first products based on our molecules and could help mitigate the daily variations in temperature,” he says. “This will lead to increased thermal comfort and reduced energy consumption for heating and cooling.”