Solar Storage Revolution: Scientists Craft Molecule with Quantum Help

A team of international researchers has harnessed the power of quantum computing to unveil a novel molecular structure with the potential to revolutionize solar energy storage.

Solar Storage Revolution: Scientists Craft Molecule with Quantum Help

A team of international researchers has harnessed the power of quantum computing to unveil a novel molecular structure with the potential to revolutionize solar energy storage. The research, detailed in the prestigious journal Angewandte Chemie, explores the application of molecular photoswitches capable of both converting and storing solar energy.

The team, spearheaded by Kurt V. Mikkelsen at the University of Copenhagen and Kasper Moth–Poulsen at the Technical University of Catalonia, Barcelona, delved into the uncharted territory of molecular solar thermal energy storage under the auspices of the EU-backed project MOST (“Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage”).

At the heart of their quest lies the ambition to move beyond conventional solar energy utilization methods, venturing into a realm where light-sensitive materials play a pivotal role in absorbing and storing solar energy at room temperature. This ambitious pathway holds the promise of entirely emission-free solar energy utilization, marking a paradigm shift in the renewable energy landscape.

The research team focused its attention on a class of molecules known as bicyclic dienes, specifically examining their ability to transition to a high-energy state when exposed to light. The standout among these dienes is the norbornadiene quadricyclane system, but the researchers, armed with a dataset comprising over 400,000 molecules, set out to identify more efficient alternatives for solar energy storage.

The innovative screening method employed by the researchers relied not on conventional machine learning, hampered by the absence of extensive training data based on real-world experiments, but on a quantum computing algorithm and a groundbreaking evaluation score termed “eta.”

This approach allowed the team to sift through the extensive database of bicyclic dienes, resulting in the identification of six top-scoring molecules.

These molecules deviated from the original norbornadiene quadricyclane system at a critical structural juncture. The key modification involved an expansion of the molecular bridge between the two carbon rings in the bicyclic structure, enabling the new molecules to store more solar energy than their precursor.

While these findings hold immense promise, the researchers emphasize the imperative next step: synthesizing and testing the newly identified molecules under real-world conditions. The authors caution that the mere synthetic preparation of these systems does not guarantee their solubility in relevant solvents or their efficacy in high-yield photoswitching, as assumed in the evaluation score “eta.”

The significance of this research, however, extends beyond the discovery of efficient solar energy storage molecules. By developing a comprehensive set of training data for machine learning algorithms, the team has streamlined the arduous research phase preceding synthesis. This breakthrough opens the door for future chemists to expedite their exploration of similar systems, offering a wealth of information on bicyclic dienes that can be tailored to meet specific requirements.

As the scientific community eagerly awaits the practical application of these newly discovered molecules, the potential impact on solar energy harvesting efficiency looms large.

The envisioned third route in solar energy utilization, involving the storage of solar energy in light-sensitive materials for subsequent release as needed, could usher in a new era of sustainability and environmental consciousness. The research not only contributes to the MOST project’s mission but also paves the way for broader applications of molecular photoswitches in diverse fields.

The convergence of quantum computing, molecular chemistry, and renewable energy research has birthed a compelling chapter in the ongoing quest for cleaner and more efficient energy solutions. The journey from quantum insights to real-world applications may still be underway, but the promise of a brighter, more sustainable future powered by molecular photoswitches is now more tangible than ever.