|Ruthenium, a rare metal related to platinum|
Scientists have discovered how a rare metal is able to absorb sunlight and store it as pure heat until it is needed.
The breakthrough paves the way for the next generation of solar power devices that are able to harness energy and heat collected from the sun and store it indefinitely.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say it could be used to create a ‘rechargeable heat battery’ that could be used to heat a home.
The remarkable material is known as fulvalene diruthenium. When a molecule of the substance absorbs sunlight it changes shape into a semi-stable, but perfectly safe, state.
It can stay like this indefinitely until combined with a catalyst when it will snap back to its original form releasing a huge amount of heat. This heat could then be used to heat a home.
Most solar power device used today convert energy from the sun into electricity or heat but do not store the energy that is not used.
When the heat is released, fuel made from fulvalene diruthenium is capable of becoming as hot as 200C.
This is known as the thermo-chemical approach, and would be far more effective than conventional solar-thermal systems which need insulation and which gradually let the heat leak away.
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