Scientists Just Created Liquid Solar Power That Can Be Stored for 18 Years

A team of Swedish scientists has gathered solar power so pure, that until recently, capturing it was an impossibility.

(© lovelyday12/Adobe)


Look no further than this week's climate strikes for evidence that millions of people are passionate about curbing global warming.

Unlike relatively limited solar panel energy storage, norbornadiene can potentially maintain its potency for years.

But even potential solutions, like alternative meats, have their own challenges. Some scientists are putting their focus on the sun to help balance out our energy consumption.

In fact, they are gathering solar power so pure that, until recently, capturing it was an impossibility.

The Lowdown

A group of Swedish scientists has created a liquid called norbornadiene. This liquid sunshine can capture up to 30 percent of raw solar power. To put it in perspective, the best publicly available solar panels can harness 21 percent. Norbornadiene would bring in about 50 percent more power – a significant difference in energy efficiency.

Most notably, unlike relatively limited solar panel energy storage, norbornadiene can potentially maintain its potency for years. We could have the ability to collect and store premium solar power, making it easier for current and future generations to use fossil and nuclear fuel alternatives.

"The norbornadiene molecules that we have made have very good properties, in terms of solar energy capture efficiency, storage time and energy density," says team lead Dr. Kasper Moth-Poulson of the Chamlers University of Technology. "They can store energy without the need for insulation materials for 18 or more years."

Next Up

Swedish scientist Moth-Poulsen and his team have been testing the norbornadiene on the physics building roof at the Chalmers University of Technology. Once activated, it heats up to just below boiling and provides enough power to be useful.

The energy density is 250 watt-hours per kilogram, twice the strength of Tesla's popular Powerall battery.

It requires potentially toxic solvents, like a cobalt-based activator, to transform into its full potential. The team is currently trying to find less-hazardous catalysts to help transform the norbornadiene to its active form, quadricyclane. Exposing it to sunlight is the main way to reactivate the norbornadiene's power. Over time, scientists will likely make it more efficient with less toxic agents.

The energy density is 250 watt-hours per kilogram, twice the strength of Tesla's popular Powerall battery.

Open Questions

The biggest question is safety, perceived or otherwise: Are you ready to drive around with 250 kWh of pure solar in your Hyundai? Norbornadiene may be stable in a hermetically sealed lab, but sculpting it for everyday use requires another level of security.

The half-life of the sunshine power is also an estimate, too. The challenge with new scientific substances is you don't know how the matter will evolve over time. It is easy to be overly optimistic about this one discovery being the key to our energy needs. For the time being, it is wiser to look at norbornadiene as a progressive step rather than a revolutionary one.

Even at its least effective, norbornadiene and its related material is a step toward us utilizing the one natural resource that won't run out for generations. In the short-term, a stable form of it could offset our fossil and nuclear fuel use and even help lower the carbon footprint made by long-distance transportation. It will be fascinating to see what future aircraft builders, home designers and even car manufacturers do as the solar technology conversation heats up.

Moth-Poulsen wants norbornadiene to be a definitive part of the climate change puzzle.

"I hope that in five years, we will see the first products based on our molecules and could help mitigate the daily variations in temperature," he says. "This will lead to increased thermal comfort and reduced energy consumption for heating and cooling."

Damon Brown
Damon Brown co-founded the popular platonic connection app Cuddlr. Now he helps side hustlers, solopreneurs, and other non-traditional entrepreneurs bloom. He is author of the TED book "Our Virtual Shadow" and, most recently, the best-selling "The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur" series. Join his creative community at www.JoinDamon.me.
Get our top stories twice a month
Follow us on

On the left, a Hermès bag made using fine mycelium as a leather alternative, made in partnership with the biotech company MycoWorks; on right, a sheet of mycelium "leather."

Photo credit: Coppi Barbieri and MycoWorks

A natural material that looks and feels like real leather is taking the fashion world by storm. Scientists view mycelium—the vegetative part of a mushroom-producing fungus—as a planet-friendly alternative to animal hides and plastics.

Products crafted from this vegan leather are emerging, with others poised to hit the market soon. Among them are the Hermès Victoria bag, Lululemon's yoga accessories, Adidas' Stan Smith Mylo sneaker, and a Stella McCartney apparel collection.

Keep Reading Keep Reading
Susan Kreimer
Susan Kreimer is a New York-based freelance journalist who has followed the landscape of health care since the late 1990s, initially as a staff reporter for major daily newspapers. She writes about breakthrough studies, personal health, and the business of clinical practice. Raised in the Chicago area, she holds a B.A. in Journalism/Mass Communication and French from the University of Iowa and an M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

From a special food to a vaccine and gene editing, new technologies may offer solutions for cat lovers with allergies.

Photo by Pacto Visual on Unsplash

Amy Bitterman, who teaches at Rutgers Law School in Newark, gets enormous pleasure from her three mixed-breed rescue cats, Spike, Dee, and Lucy. To manage her chronically stuffy nose, three times a week she takes Allegra D, which combines the antihistamine fexofenadine with the decongestant pseudoephedrine. Amy's dog allergy is rougher--so severe that when her sister launched a business, Pet Care By Susan, from their home in Edison, New Jersey, they knew Susan would have to move elsewhere before she could board dogs. Amy has tried to visit their brother, who owns a Labrador Retriever, taking Allegra D beforehand. But she began sneezing, and then developed watery eyes and phlegm in her chest.

"It gets harder and harder to breathe," she says.

Animal lovers have long dreamed of "hypo-allergenic" cats and dogs. Although to date, there is no such thing, biotechnology is beginning to provide solutions for cat-lovers. Cats are a simpler challenge than dogs. Dog allergies involve as many as seven proteins. But up to 95 percent of people who have cat allergies--estimated at 10 to 30 percent of the population in North America and Europe--react to one protein, Fel d1. Interestingly, cats don't seem to need Fel d1. There are cats who don't produce much Fel d1 and have no known health problems.

Keep Reading Keep Reading
Temma Ehrenfeld
Temma Ehrenfeld writes about health and psychology. In a previous life, she was a reporter and editor at Newsweek and Fortune. You can see more of her work at her writing portfolio (https://temmaehrenfeld.contently.com) and contact her through her Psychology Today blog.