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Scientists at Tianjin University Unveil a Tool for Efficient Use of Solar Energy

Recently, a research review Azobenzene-based solar thermal fuels: design, properties, and applications by Dong Liqi, as the first author, was published at the Chemical Society Review, an international authoritative journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He is a doctoral student of Professor Feng Wei’s Tianjin University team. Professor Feng Wei explained, with breakthroughs in solar thermal fuel, the paper described the important role of azobenzene as a tool for the efficient use of solar thermal fuels for the first time in the world.  

As one of the most abundant resource in nature, the supply of solar energy is inexhaustible and always available for use. Therefore, the efficient use of solar energy will become a key to solving energy problems. However, there have been defects in the development and utilization of solar energy including inefficiency, radiation dispersion and unstable energy storage. Solar thermal fuel is seen as the key to overcome this problem. The ideal solar thermal fuel will achieve reversible energy conversion and storage in a single material system with zero emissions, ease of transport, recyclability, renewable capability, and on-demand release in the form of heat. 

The research of Feng Wei and other team members found that azobenzene is expected to be a smart “switch” and “memory” for thermal material storage and release of solar energy. With a unique property of "light-induced reversible structural transition ", azobenzene can store solar radiation energy through structural transformation and space rearrangement of photo-switchable molecules and then release energy in the form of heat, which is an important material for light-heat storage and controlled release. In the review, Feng Wei’s team focused on the latest research of various thermal fuels based on azobenzene and its derivatives and explained the basic design concepts and practical applications of advanced solar energy storage materials. “We have put forward new ideas on the future application, opportunities and challenges of azobenzene thermal fuels, providing guidance for the development and application of azobenzene thermal materials,” said Professor Feng Wei. “Great technology that helps achieve efficient use of solar energy will be a hot topic for scientists and engineers from different technical backgrounds." 

As one of the earliest research teams in the world to focus on the research of organic molecular thermal energy, the Feng Wei team of Tianjin University has long been committed to the development of thermal materials. In 2006, the team first reported the structure of azobenzene-carbon nanotubes, a basic molecular structure for thermal energy, in the American Journal of Applied Physics and Carbon. In recent years, the team has achieved a series of original results in the research and design of azobenzene-carbon templated materials with the support of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Outstanding Youth Fund Project, and the National Program on Key Basic Research Project (973 Program). The relevant research has led world. 

By: Li Yanqi
Editors: Sun Xiaofang and Ross Colquhoun