Skip to Content
77 Mass Ave

A “Battery” for Solar Heat

New system could save the warmth of a sunny day and release it when it’s cold.
February 23, 2016

Imagine if your clothing could, on demand, release just enough heat to keep you warm, allowing you to lower your thermostat and still stay comfortable. Or picture a car windshield that stores the sun’s energy and then releases it to melt away a layer of ice. A team of MIT researchers says both scenarios may be possible soon, thanks to a new material that can store solar energy during the day and release it as heat whenever it’s needed. A transparent polymer film, it could be applied to many different surfaces, such as window glass or clothing.

The key to long-term, stable storage of solar heat is a chemical change, say MIT professor Jeffrey Grossman and postdoc David Zhitomirsky, who published their findings earlier this year. Whereas heat itself inevitably dissipates over time no matter how good the insulation around it, a chemical storage system can retain the energy indefinitely in a stable molecular configuration, until its release is triggered by a small jolt of heat (or light or electricity).

The system uses a type of molecule that can remain stable in either of two different configurations. When it’s exposed to sunlight, the energy in that light kicks the molecules into their “charged” configuration, and they can stay that way for long periods until their energy is released on demand.

Already, the preliminary system might be a significant boon for electric cars, which devote so much energy to heating and to deicing windshields that their driving range can drop by 30 percent in cold conditions. The new polymer could significantly reduce that drain, Grossman says.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting

With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.