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New Solution for Storing Renewable Energy Comes in a Small Package

12 October 2017

Scientists have been searching for the next generation of materials that can catalyze a revolution in a renewable energy harvesting and storage.

One candidate for this may be metal-organic frameworks. Scientists have used these small, flexible, ultra-thin, super-porous crystalline structures to do everything from capturing and converting carbon into fuels to storing hydrogen and other gases. The biggest drawback is the material’s lack of conductivity.

The cobalt-based metal-organic framework used by the USC scientists, with purple representing cobalt, yellow representing sulfur and gray representing carbon. (Smaranda Marinescu)The cobalt-based metal-organic framework used by the USC scientists, with purple representing cobalt, yellow representing sulfur and gray representing carbon. (Smaranda Marinescu)

According to USC scientists, it turns out that metal-organic frameworks can conduct electricity in the same way metals do.

This opens a new door for metal-organic-frameworks to one day efficiently store renewable energy at a very large scale.

"For the first time ever, we have demonstrated a metal-organic framework that exhibits conductivity like that of a metal. The natural porosity of the metal-organic framework makes it ideal for reducing the mass of material, allowing for lighter, more compact devices" said Brent Melot, assistant professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences.

"Metallic conductivity in tandem with other catalytic properties would add to its potential for renewable energy production and storage," said Smaranda Marinescu, assistant professor of chemistry at the USC Dornsife College.

Metal-organic frameworks are so porous they are well-suited for absorbing and storing gases like hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Their storage is highly concentrated: 1 gram of surface area provides the equivalent of thousands of square feet in storage.

Solar has not yet been maximized as an energy source. The earth receives more energy from one hour of sunlight that is consumed in one year by the entire planet, but there is currently no way to use the energy because there is no way to conserve all of it. This intermittency is basic to almost all renewable power sources. This makes it impossible to harvest and store energy unless the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.

If scientists and industries could regularly reproduce the capability demonstrated by Marinescu, it would go a long way to reducing intermittency, which allows us to make solar energy an enduring and permanent resource.

Metal-organic frameworks are 2D structures that contain cobalt, sulfur and carbon atoms. In many ways the broadly resemble something like graphene, which is a thin layer of 2D, transparent material.

Asa temperature goes down the metals become more conductive. On the other hand, as the temperature goes up the semiconductors become more conductive.

In the experiments, Marinescu’s group used a cobalt-based metal-organic framework that mimicked the conductivity of a metal and a semiconductor at different temperatures. The metal-organic framework designed by the scientists demonstrated its greatest conductivity at very low and very high temperatures.

A paper on this research was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society



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