Video: MIT Researcher Explains New "Third Way" Solar Innovation

We all know photovoltaics and solar thermal. Now MIT researchers have made a breakthrough in a new form of solar power.

We tend to think of solar power as coming in two possible forms: photovoltaics, which convert sunlight into electricity, and solar thermal systems, which use the sun's heat to warm water or a home, or which can be concentrated on a fixed spot to boil water or oil and turn a turbine, thereby generating power.

Of course, the sun's energy could theoretically be used in any number of ways. In fact, most of the forms of energy we recognize are, in some way, "solar" power. This includes coal and oil, which as fossil fuels contain ages' worth of the sun's energy accumulated as rich carbon over time. The same goes wind power, as heat from the sun is what drives wind currents.

Recently there have been some exciting advances in one decades-old idea for capturing and utilizing the sun's energy, thanks to a team of MIT researchers lead by Jeffrey Grossman. The so-called "thermo-chemical approach" is described by MIT News Office's David Chandler like so:

"solar energy is captured in the configuration of certain molecules which can then release the energy on demand to produce usable heat. And unlike conventional solar-thermal systems, which require very effective insulation and even then gradually let the heat leak away, the heat-storing chemicals can remain stable for years.


Basically, the team has discovered this incredible molecule: fulvalene diruthenium. That cute little molecule (pictured on the left) will change its shape when it absorbs heat and, later, with the help of a still-to-be-determined calalyst, will release the heat and snap back to its original shape.

Here's a video that probably describes the process better than I do:


Grossman says this of the thermo-chemical approach: takes many of the advantages of solar-thermal energy, but stores the heat in the form of a fuel. It’s reversible, and it’s stable over a long term. You can use it where you want, on demand. You could put the fuel in the sun, charge it up, then use the heat, and place the same fuel back in the sun to recharge.


There are still a few significant sticking points—ruthenium, one of the elements in the molecule, is rare and prohibitively expensive, so they're going to have to figure out a different molecule that will perform the same basic task. But that seems possible. The big advance announced here is that the concept was proven. This molecule “is the wrong material," Grossman said, "but it shows it can be done.”

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less