Imagine if your clothing could, on demand, release just enough heat to keep you warm and cozy, allowing you to dial back on your thermostat settings and stay comfortable in a cooler room. Or, picture a car windshield that stores the sun’s energy and then releases it as a burst of heat to melt away a layer of ice.
According to a team of researchers at MIT, both scenarios may be possible before long, thanks to a new material that can store solar energy during the day and release it later as heat, whenever it’s needed. This transparent polymer film could be applied to many different surfaces, such as window glass or clothing.
Although the sun is a virtually inexhaustible source of energy, it’s only available about half the time we need it—during daylight. For the sun to become a major power provider for human needs, there has to be an efficient way to save it up for use during nighttime and stormy days. Most such efforts have focused on storing and recovering solar energy in the form of electricity, but the new finding could provide a highly efficient method for storing the sun’s energy through a chemical reaction and releasing it later as heat.