Various teams of researchers are working independently to bring to the world a way to enjoy renewable energy on-the-go and at an affordable price. There is also a possibility to store clean energy using a technique that would not break the bank. Mechanism of using the Norbonadiene. (Image via zmescience)


Mankind’s efforts to create a greener and cleaner environment has led to many discoveries, among which are sustainable sources of energy: wind, sun, water, etc. However, what happens when the sky is cloudy, the wind isn’t blowing enough, and the ocean is calm? In those situations, there is not enough energy to farm. In addition, storing sustainable energy can make the production of such energy more expensive than that of carbon-based or fossil fuels. Furthermore, there is no way to carry renewable energy the way we carry a power bank to recharge a cellphone. Until now.


Right to left: bricks being stacked as energy is produced in excess. (Image via Energy Vault)


First, the cost of storage of clean energy must get under control. And for that, Energy Vault has a solution. Inspired by the way hydro power is stored in dams when excess energy is produced, the company created a “dam system” that will be adapted to solar and wind power. They will build a brick tower system in which an automatic crane powered by a battery will raise a 35-ton brick to the top of the tower using the excess energy generated by the plant. The bricks are connected to Energy Vault’s patented and proprietary software that regulates the energy storage and the discharge of electricity taking into consideration the weather, the energy demand volatility, and the power supply. When all the bricks are stacked, that is the representation of all the power available for use at any given time. To release the stored energy, the crane lowers the bricks one at a time at a controlled speed to create kinetic energy which will charge a generator that will later distribute the electricity as needed.


According to Robert Piconi, the CEO of Energy Vault, the “tower” system will make producing and storing renewable energy cheaper than building giant lithium-ion batteries like the ones installed by Tesla in Australia. Piconi also explained that the bricks of the tower are made with materials that would have been wasted if they were not recycled and reused in the making of the tower; therefore, cutting down even further the cost of building such system. Now that there is a possibility to store renewable energy on site, is it possible to make it portable?


Demonstration of how liquid solar fuel supply electricity to a house (Image via Chalmers University)


To complete the revolution that renewable energy is, it will be perfect to make it accessible at any given time and anywhere. That is certainly what researchers at Chalmers University were trying to accomplish when they created the Norbornadiene, a liquid molecule that absorbs and stores solar energy and releases it when needed. Composed mainly of carbon combined with hydrogen and nitrogen atoms, this solar thermal fluid is special because of the way it behaves in contact of sunlight: the bonds between the atoms are broken and rearranged to transform heat energy into chemical energy.


The new fluid is called then quadricyclane. The quadricyclane is stable enough to be stored up to 18 years. To use this “battery” of solar power, the liquid is passed through a catalyst which makes the liquid return to its original composition; and the heat from this reaction, which can rise to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, is what is used as fuel. But Norbornadiene is not the only solar thermal fuel being tested. Researchers at MIT are also working on a polymer that can be used in clothing or even home improvement, which will absorb the energy from the sun, store it and release it when needed to warm a house or keep the body warm during the cold season.


With so many possibilities being explored, using renewal energy as the main source of energy in the future might become a reality sooner than the world is expecting. Some experts even predict that the technology will be available in about 10 years.


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