Energy Storage Technology Advances with Thermo-Chemical Storage Technology
Chemical energy storage research points the way to next-generation batteries that will use Thermo-Chemical storage
With current solar technology, there are some important limitations that have hampered a broad and widespread adoption of the technology. Chief among these limitations is the difficulty of storing the energy generated by solar panels so that the electricity can be provided on-demand at any time of day. Current solutions to this problem involve either storing the electricity in chemical batteries or converting the solar energy into molten salt or compressed air. But none of these current solutions is a total solution: batteries have to be carefully monitored to avoid overheating or improper charging (or as people have found to their dismay, they tend to explode... kaboom!), while molten salt and compressed air technology are still maturing and it is still unknown whether they will prove to be efficient and cost-effective.
MIT's 'aha' Moment: re-investigate thermo-chemical Storage
Aware of these limitations, a team of MIT researchers have spent the last few years re-investigated a concept from the 1970s called thermo-chemical storage. The concept of thermo-chemical storage is to harness the chemical properties of specific unique molecules which can be switched between a 'storage' state where they store energy and a 'release' state where they release the stored energy as heat.
The original work from the 1970s showed promise but the original research teams were unable to discover a molecule exhibiting the necessary properties. In 1996 such a molecule was actually discovered, and was dubbed Fulvalene Diruthenium. But it relied on a rare element called Ruthenium that made it impractical for widespread adoption. And an even more difficult problem was that researchers were unable to explain how it actually worked, which made it impossible to search for other, more suitable replacements. The major advance now being announced by MIT is that its research team has analyzed the Fulvalene Diruthenium molecule and now fully understands the mechanisms that enable its unique properties. The video below explains the work in more detail:
This groundbreaking work now paves the way for future research that is expected to soon lead to new energy storage molecules that will lead to an entirely new class of highly-efficient batteries. These batteries, dubbed 'rechargeable heat batteries', would be able to store and release heat energy from the sun and other sources as well. According to Jeffrey Grossman, Professor of Power Engineering at MIT primary researcher on the team, a 'rechargeable heat battery' would be able to "get as hot as 200 degrees C, plenty hot enough to heat your home, or even to run an engine to produce electricity."
Now the race is on to find the next super-molecule to power these energy storage batteries. With the current interest in energy storage, billions of dollars are at stake and we can expect a highly competitive field of thermal storage researchers all scrambing to be the first to invent the first practical thermo-chemical battery.