July/August 2010

New material stores vast amounts of energy

Using super-high pressures similar to those found deep in the Earth, researchers have created a compact, material capable of storing vast amounts of energy.

To create this material, researchers crushed xenon difluoride-a white crystal used to etch silicon conductors-between two small diamond anvils, according to TechNewsDaily. A so-called diamond anvil cell is a small device just a few inches in diameter capable of producing extremely high pressures in an even smaller space.

Though the research is just at a basic science level for now, the findings show it is possible to infuse mechanical energy into a material via extremely strong chemical bonds.

"It is the most condensed form of energy storage outside of nuclear energy," said Choong-Shik Yoo, a professor of chemistry at Washington State University and lead author of the paper published in a recent issue of the journal Nature Chemistry.

At normal atmospheric pressure, molecules of xenon difluoride stay relatively far apart from each other. As researchers increased the pressure on the xenon difluoride inside the diamond anvil cell chamber, the material became a two-dimensional graphite-like semiconductor.

The researchers eventually increased the pressure to more than a million atmospheres, which is comparable to the pressure found halfway to the center of the Earth. All this "squeezing," as Yoo called it, forces the molecules to make tightly bound three-dimensional metallic "network structures."