By Matt Rocheleau, Boston.com Staff
Scientists at MIT and Harvard say they have developed a material that can produce solar power for times when the sun is not shining.
The material absorbs the sun’s heat, stores that energy in chemical form and can release it on demand, according to researchers.
“It could change the game, since it makes the sun’s energy, in the form of heat, storable and distributable,” said a statement from MIT power engineering professor Jeffrey Grossman, one of six researchers who unveiled their findings in an article published this week in the journal Nature Chemistry.
The team of scientists said the material would be an inefficient way to produce electricity, but it would work well for heat-related uses. For example, it could be used to heat buildings, for cooking or to power heat-based industrial processes.
And, “Unlike fuels that are burned, this system uses material that can be continually reused. It produces no emissions and nothing gets consumed,” said a statement from MIT.
The researchers developed the material after they used computer analysis to devise a concept for it three years ago, officials said.
The study’s lead author, Timothy Kucharski, a postdoc at MIT and Harvard, said the team’s latest research means commercial production of such a system is now “a big step closer,” but further study will be needed to create a practical system.
Harvard professor Daniel Nocera and three others from MIT are working on the study: scientist Nicola Ferralis, assistant mechanical engineering professor Alexie Kolpak, and undergraduate Jennie Zheng.
The project has been backed by BP and the US Department of Energy, officials said.