Scientists Transform Sunlight Into a Liquid Fuel


Mia R.


What if humanity could find a way to put solar energy into a bottle to power homes and factories? Alternatively, even better, find a way to replace fossil fuels entirely. Scientists have spent years trying to do just that, and just recently, in Sweden, they have managed to put the Sun’s energy in a bottle.

One of the main issues of finding a clean, renewable energy source is that fossil fuels are a fuel and can be stored for extended amounts of time compared to solar power which can’t be stored as easily. Scientists have been snagged on this branch for quite a while until a series four papers brought an interesting solution. In Sweden, scientists developed a solar thermal fuel fluid able to store solar radiation energy for over a decade.

It’s literally “sunlight in a bottle” as this fluid works similar to a rechargeable battery but uses sunlight instead of electricity. Just shine sunlight over it, and this fluid traps it to be used at a later date by adding a cobalt-based catalyst to release the energy from chemical bonds inside the fluid. When the energy is released by the catalyst, the fluid reverts to its previous form. It is thought that this fluid could be how homes will be powered by 2030.

However complex this fluid sounds, it’s shockingly simple. The fluid is just molecules made of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen and rearranges the bonds between its atoms when it is hit by sunlight (also called an isomer) ready to be used anytime in the next 18 years. Even at room temperature, the Sun’s energy is still trapped inside this fluid only to be released when the fluid is based over a cobalt-based catalyst. This makes the fluid warm up by 113 degrees Fahrenheit, but scientist think the fluid can warm to at least 230 degrees Fahrenheit with the right manipulations which were higher than what scientists had hoped. After all the heat is released, the fluid reverts to its original form ready to store the Sun’s energy.

Prototypes systems have been placed on the roof of the physics building at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. The system pumps the fluid through transparent tubes where ultraviolet light from the Sun causes the liquid to rearrange its bond converting what once was a substance known as norbornadiene into quadricyclane. The thermal coming off this substance could power water heaters, house heating, dishwashers, and cloth dyers as it can reach 183 degrees F when it starts at 70 degrees F. Other benefits of this fluid is that it can be transported in uninsulated tanks and that very little of the fuel or the catalyst is damaged by the reactions with an experiment running 125 cycles without any significant degradation.

Humanity has made a lot of progress in finding out more environmentally cleaner ways to meet their needs and protect the Earth. It seems that they may have finally found a solution to global warming.