Sugar alcohols: the new possible way to store solar and wind energy

sugar alcohols-Ball-and-stick-model-of-the-erythritol-molecule

As renewable energy is more and more important in the world energy supply, how to effectively store the energy is a critical issue.

Recently, scientists from Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, find a possible way to use sugar alcohols – a waste produced by the food industry – to store wind and solar energy. The finding is published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry.

Researchers used nanoscale carbon structures (e.g., carbon nanotubes) to improve the thermal conductivity of sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are heat storage materials.

Contrary to the name, sugar alcohols are not sugar nor alcoholic beverages. They are white, water-soluble solids that can occur naturally or be produced from sugars. They are used widely in the food industry as thickeners and sweeteners.

In the study, researchers examined the effects when carbon nanotubes of varying sizes were mixed with different types of sugar alcohols. They found that with one exception, heat transfer within a mixture reduced as the nanotube diameter decreased. Generally, higher density combinations led to better heat transfer.

Researchers suggest that heat storage in sugar alcohols can be improved, and this may help the design of a sugar alcohol energy storage system in the near future.

This is a good news because currently most solar and wind energy is stored in batteries or flywheel energy storage as chemical and mechanical power. Now with this finding, it is possible to effectively store energy as heat.

Citation: Zhang H, et al. (2016). Nanoscale Heat Transfer in Carbon Nanotubes – Sugar Alcohol Composite as Heat Storage Materials. The Journal of Physical Chemistry C, published online. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcc.6b05466
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.