A potentially transformative discovery from researchers at MIT that radically improves the efficiency of storing energy from the sun. Via Fast Company:
MIT's researchers have discovered a way to blend carbon nanotubes, current media darlings of the chemistry world, with an existing material used for storing heat energy. In doing so they've come up with something incredible: A new chemical, far cheaper than its competition, that can store solar heat energy with about the same density as the electrical power we jam into lithium-ion batteries. What could this mean? If we're lucky, in the sunnier parts of the world it could mean an end to home heating bills... but that's just the start.
The material works like this: The molecules are simply exposed to the radiation of plain, bright sunlight. Incoming energy excites the molecules, and causes some of their cleverly engineered chemical bonds to "flip" as they get excited. This means a tiny sliver of energy is stored in each bond, and if you have trillions of the molecules in a bulk material, this energy can quickly add up. To discharge this solar-thermo-chemical battery, you need a trigger such as a small burst of heat or a catalyst material, and the bonds begin to flip back to their resting state, releasing the stored energy as heat.