Graduate student makes a breakthrough in harnessing the Sun’s energy

A more effective and sustainable way to store solar energy has been discovered using non-toxic molecules. It’s a significant step forward in the pursuit to harvest the full potential of the Sun – and the improved molecule was designed by Anders Bo Skov, a 25 year old Master of Chemistry student at the University of Copenhagen.

Skov and his group at the university’s Center for Exploitation of Solar Energy were working with a band of molecules that store energy by changing shape. But the team was having trouble getting the molecules to store a high amount of energy over a longer period of time – they would release their energy after only an hour or two.

But Skov, who had began researching the problem as an undergraduate project, finally made a progressive leap when he was able to double the energy density of a molecule that can hold its shape for 100 years. The findings were published in Chemistry – A European Journal.

“What Anders has achieved is an important breakthrough. Admittedly we do not have a good method to release the energy on demand and we should increase the energy density further still. But now we know which path to take in order to succeed,” says Professor Mogens Brøndsted, lead researcher of Skov’s group.

It is an especially important development considering the molecule is non-toxic.

“My molecule releases neither CO2, nor any other chemical compounds while working. It is ‘sunlight in, power out’,” says Skov. “And when the molecule wears out one day it degrades to a colorant which is also found in chamomile flowers.”