Solar Thermal Fuel Market: A practical green energy source
- Solar thermal fuel is a chemical that can absorb solar radiation, store it for a longer period, and release it. Solar thermal fuels (STFs) store solar energy through light-induced changes in their molecular structure, and release the energy in the form of heat in future, as needed.
- Solar thermal fuel works on the principle of artificial photosynthesis. It absorbs sunlight and undergoes a molecular transition to a different isomer, which is higher in energy. If energy is needed, a catalyst is used to reverse the photochemical transition and heat is released.
- A solar thermal fuel resembles a rechargeable battery; however, instead of electricity, the input is the sunlight and the output is thermal energy. The energy capacity of solar thermal fuels is equivalent to lithium-ion batteries, and they represent a fully cyclable solution as they can be recharged after use through re-exposure to sunlight.
- Solar thermal fuels are capable of accumulating solar energy for up to 18 years. Researchers estimate that the ideal variant of STFs can store as much as 250 watt-hours of energy per kilogram.
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Key drivers of solar thermal fuel market
- Energy storage has been a significant hurdle to the prevalent adoption of renewables across the globe. The newly developed solar thermal fuel is likely to be the potential green energy source, since it could store solar energy for over a decade.
- Unlike fossil fuels, this specialized fluid is eco-friendly since STF is reusable. It does not produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases that are harmful to the atmosphere. Solar thermal fuels are likely to serve as a revolutionary solution to control the prevalent global warming crisis in the near future.
- As a unique source of clean energy, solar fuel has been a focus for researchers around the world for the last 40 years
- According to the United Nations’ projections, the global population is estimated to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, which is estimated to further exceed 9.1 Bn by 2050. Creating clean fuel from water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide is estimated to become a commercial option in the future in order to meet the future energy demand, thus presenting brighter potential for solar thermal fuel market during the forecast period.
- Currently, more research needs to be done to determine the viability of this solar energy storage method, and it is not yet known how much a commercial version of this specialized fuel would cost.
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Household as well as industrial areas to have a wide variety of applications
- Solar thermal fuel is likely to offer significant potential, as a new technology to provide useful and renewable heat energy, particularly for applications where periodic heating is required; for instance, de-icing or night-time heating in buildings.
- STF is not yet a mature technology; however, it has a wide variety of potential applications in areas of heating.
- The specialized fluid can reportedly absorb a bit of energy from sunlight and hold on to this energy for months or even years. The energy is then released when it is needed, and is free of greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike natural gas and coal, solar thermal fuels are environmentally friendly and reusable.
- The potential household applications for solar thermal fuel could be to power the water heater, dishwasher, clothes dryer, etc.
- The potential industrial applications could include low-temperature heat used for distillation, sterilization, cooking, bleaching, and other such commercial operations
- Solar thermal fuel could be stored in uninsulated tanks at factories or houses, and the system can operate in a closed loop, collecting solar energy and dropping off heat over and over again. These unique characteristics are likely to drive the solar thermal fuel market by 2027.
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Nascent Stage of the Solar Thermal Fuel Market: Uncertainty about commercialization of STFs
- The solar thermal fuel market is currently in the nascent stage. Despite its breakthrough potential, the commercialization of the product involves several uncertainties regarding its design, costing, and implementation.
- The design and optimization of STF materials as devices or coatings has been a major challenge for researchers, since liquid form STFs are viable and solid-state photo-switching is relatively rare.
- However, solar thermal fuel is likely to be an optimal alternative amidst the world’s quest for clean energy solutions. The share of solar energy reached 36% of all newly added power capacities in 2018. All solar photovoltaic power plants together formed only 2.2% of the world’s electricity output in 2018. This shows that despite solar’s recent dominating role in annual power generation additions, there’s huge untapped potential for both solar and it’s renewable.
Europe has been a key contributor to the discovery of solar thermal fuel
- In terms of region, the global solar thermal fuel market can be split into five regions: North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Middle East & Africa.
- Prominent research work for solar thermal fuel was undertaken in Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, in November 2018
- Asia Pacific is expected to witness a significant demand for solar thermal fuel, owing to the commercialization of STF in the near future
Key research institutions and associations operating in the solar thermal fuel market
Solar thermal fuel is currently in the research phase, and not commercialized yet. Key research institutions and associations operating in the solar thermal fuel market include
- Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
- Lancaster University, U.K.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), U.S.
- Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
- International Solar Energy Society (ISES)
- Hawaii Solar Energy Association (HSEA)
- European Solar Thermal Electricity Association (ESTELA)
- Southern Africa Solar Thermal (SASTELA)
- The Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association (AUSTELA)
- Solar Energy Society of India
- International Energy Agency (IEA)