As renewable energy generation continues to grow at an exponential rate, it is essential that we find technologies that can efficiently store that energy until it’s needed. A new material identified by scientists at Lancaster University could offer exactly that.
Known as a metal-organic framework (MOF), the material is famous for being very porous, a property that enables it to form composite materials with other small molecules. This particular property is exactly what the researchers tapped into.
To test MOF’s energy storage abilities, the team loaded the material’s pores with the light-absorbing compound azobenzene. The finished composite material was able to store energy from ultraviolet light for at least four months — a significant improvement over the days and weeks that most light-responsive materials can manage.
As explained by Science Alert, the azobenzene acts as a photoswitch – a molecular trigger that responds to stimuli such as light or heat. Under ultraviolet light, the molecules change shape while staying in the MOF pore framework, effectively storing the energy.
When it’s time to reclaim that energy, the material is exposed to heat. This triggers a quick release in energy that itself gives off heat, which can then potentially be used to warm other materials or devices.
Currently, the team is improving the technology so it can be ready for widespread use. In addition to storing energy, the material could eventually be used to de-ice car windscreens, or supply additional heating for homes and offices, or as a heating source for off-grid locations.