Sunlight-activated phase change materials for controlled heat storage and triggered release†
We report the design of photo-responsive organic phase change materials that can absorb filtered solar radiation to store both latent heat and photon energy via simultaneous phase transition and photo-isomerization. The activation of photo-switches by long wavelengths ≥530 nm in the visible light range at a low irradiance is achieved, in the absence of high-intensity light sources, by the ortho-substitution of azobenzene units. The facile transition from crystalline to liquid phase is enabled by appending an aliphatic group on the photochromic moiety. The sunlight-activated liquid phase exhibits an exceptionally long heat storage without crystallization for nearly two months, and the release of energy is triggered by a short irradiation at 430 nm. The successful demonstration of photo-controlled latent heat storage accomplished by solar irradiation opens a new horizon on solar energy harvesting by functional organic materials, as a complementary system to photocatalysts and photovoltaic materials.