“I was interested in pushing this to the extreme, to see how to get a step change in performance,” Henry says.,He returned to Georgia Tech with a risky idea for a new kind of concentrated solar power (CSP). Most CSP designs are based on the idea of storing heat as molten salt,  and moving the liquid through metal piping and pumps to convert into electricity. But there is a limit to how hot the salts can get when storing heat. Temperatures higher than this limit could also cause metal pipes and pumps to corrode too quickly.,“I visited
Jurassic-sized machine shops where they build the largest turbines in the world, and also toured concentrated solar plants,” Henry says. “That was a transformative experience, and I started getting interested in systems-level design.”,Each postdoc helped to crystallize his own research goals. At Oak Ridge, he learned to do electronic structure calculations. At Northwestern, he got into renewable energy, simulating promising solar-thermochemical materials. And at ARPA-E, a division that was designed to support high-risk, high-reward projects, he learned to think big.,Henry pushed on, working with his advisor to develop molecular dynamics simulations of heat conduction, and received his master’s and PhD in mechanical engineering in 2009. He then accepted a faculty position at Georgia Tech, but before settling on campus, he took up three consecutive postdocs, at Oak Ridge National Laboratories,
Northwestern University, and the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E.,“That [isolation] motivated me, and I was on a mission to get my degree,” he says.,Henry’s experience at MIT was academically intense, at times financially uncertain, and overall, socially isolating, he says, noting that at one time he was the only Black engineering graduate student in the department.,As an undergraduate at Florida A&M, Henry continued working in Abdullah’s lab, on a study of earthquake-induced vibrations. He also became interested in vibrations at the atomic scale, and the motion of atoms in the context of heat, which led him to apply to graduate school at MIT.,“That really turned things on for me,” Henry recalls. “I was getting paid to do technical work for the first time, which was exciting at that age.”,For the next six years, he joined a professional touring ensemble and devoted himself to African drumming. He was 16 when he decided to forgo a drumming career, after seeing his teachers’ financial hardships. Around that time, he took part in a rites-of-passage program for young Black men, where he met mentor Makola Abdullah, a professor of civil engineering at Florida A&M. Abdullah hired Henry as a young assistant in his lab, where the team was studying the structure of the Egyptian pyramids.,“I had been taught to revere African culture, but never had really seen or heard it, and I totally fell in love with the drums that day,” Henry says.,Henry grew up in Sarasota, Florida, then in Tallahassee, where he became a drummer. His parents, both professors at Florida A&M University, made every effort to instill in him an appreciation of his family’s West African roots. When he was 10, his mother brought him to an African dance class at the university.,“In my view, the choice to go to MIT was a path toward saving the human race,” Henry says. “I believe in this technology, and that this is the key, the linchpin that will set a lot of things in the right direction.”,It’s an ambitious road, and one that has not been without hurdles, much like Henry’s own path to MIT. In 2020, he was granted a faculty tenure position in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and is funneling much of his energy into storing up the sun.,Henry says this “sun-in-a-box” system would serve as a rechargeable battery, albeit one that takes up half a football field. He has shown that key parts of the system work, and is bringing those parts together to demonstrate a lab-scale system. If that proves successful, he will push ahead to versions with increasing storage capacity, and ultimately, to a commercial-scale, grid-integrated system.,Imagine, alongside solar plants and wind turbines, a heavily insulated, warehouse-sized container filled with white-hot liquid metal. Any excess energy captured during low-use times would be diverted into this container, where it would be converted into heat. When energy demand goes up, the liquid metal could be pumped through a converter to turn heat back into electricity.,Today, much of the renewable energy that’s captured from the wind and sun is delivered in a use-it-or-lose-it capacity. To store such energy, Henry envisions a completely sustainable, zero-carbon grid with the potential to supply all our electrical needs, even on overcast and windless days. And he has a blueprint for how to get there.,Asegun Henry has a bold idea to save the world. He believes the key to reducing carbon emissions, and mitigating further climate change, lies in our ability to box up the sun.,“This is the key, the linchpin that will set a lot of things in the right direction,” says the MIT mechanical engineering professor.,Asegun Henry has a big idea for tackling climate change: Store up the sun.,Molten metal.,