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A better way to store green energy?



Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Fall 2012

Samuel Amanuel, assistant professor of physics (with Will Linthicum '14)

Renewable energy is key to meeting the ever-increasing global demand for power. Renewable power, though, has drawbacks. It can be unreliable and difficult to dispatch on demand.

But storing energy, particularly concentrated solar power, in molten salts – in the form of sensible heat – could change this.

"Basically, you heat molten salts to temperatures that are much higher than those of steam and store the salts in tanks until power is needed," Samuel Amanuel said. "Heat from the salts can then be used to generate steam, which can then generate electricity."

Amanuel is investigating the possibility of enhancing the storage potential of these molten salts by increasing their specific heat capacity – the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of a material by one degree Celsius per unit mass.

"We're trying to understand why and how nano particles alter the physical behavior of molten salts," Amanuel said. “It’s plausible that incorporating nano particles or confining them into nano pores can increase their specific heat."

So he's studying the behavior of molten salt inside nano pores that are smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The work may help increase energy storage efficiency.

"Our energy consumption is not sustainable without improving storage technology," said Amanuel, whose research is supported by the Cornell University-NASA N.Y. Space Grant Consortium. "It's essential to making clean power a viable option."