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Chemists to store sun energy in molecules

A newly established ''Centre for Exploitation of Solar Energy", at the Department of Chemistry has just got allocated DKK 35 million from the University of Copenhagen to develop solar energy-storing molecules

A new research initiative, led by professors Mogen Nielsen, Kurt Mikkelsen, and Henrik Kjærgaard, has the ambitious goal of creating new solar energy-storing materials. It is hoped that this environmentally sustainable energy method can be used on a variety of surfaces, making it easier to capture and utilize the sun’s energy for future use.

Most current solar energy technology is silicon based. Like glass, silicon is heavy, fragile and rigid. Solar cell panels are almost exclusively placed on flat surfaces, away from human interference, and supported by a strong base, such as the rooftops of tall office buildings.

”The idea of the centre is also to come up with completely new molecules, using organic molecules with a carbon base. Organic molecules offer more flexibility, and could be built into textiles such as clothing or bags, or into a photo-paint that could be applied to a variety of surfaces”, says Mogens Nielsen, professor at the Department of Chemistry.

Saving up the Sunlight

Another central goal of the research centre is the harvesting of this solar energy for future use.

”Right now solar panels harvest energy for immediate use,” says Mogens Nielsen, ”the goal is to capture this solar energy and keep it in a highly charged form for as long as possible, until it is ready to be released.”

The development of this ‘solar battery” is especially relevant to Denmark’s erratic weather conditions. The average hours of sunlight in Denmark varies considerably, at roughly 0.6 hours per day in December, to 8.2 hours per day in June ( The concept of a solar battery would allow for the utilization of solar energy over the dark winter months.

Light at the end of the tunnel

”In regard to energy storage, we want to let theory guide us,” says Mogens.

The Centre for Exploitation of Solar Energy will be in place for 5 years, beginning 1 May 2013, and will incorporate theory, synthesis and spectroscopy.

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