Scientists are trying to convert solar energy into liquid fuel
What if we could bottle solar energy so it could be used to power our homes and factories even when the sun doesn't shine?
Scientists have spent decades looking for a way do just that, and now researchers in Sweden are reporting significant progress. They've developed a specialized fluid that absorbs a bit of sunlight's energy, holds it for months or even years and then releases it when needed. If this so-called solar thermal fuel can be perfected, it might drive another nail in the coffin of fossil fuels and help solve our global-warming crisis.
Unlike oil, coal and natural gas, solar thermal fuels are reusable and environmentally friendly. They release energy without spewing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
"A solar thermal fuel is like a rechargeable battery, but instead of electricity, you put sunlight in and get heat out, triggered on demand," says Jeffrey Grossman, who leads a lab at MIT that works on such materials.