Material could help super-fuels development

A newly created material capable of storing vast amounts of energy could help scientists develop new kinds of super fuels and batteries.

Researchers at Washington State University used the kind of pressure found halfway to the centre of the Earth to create the substance, which stores chemical energy in its very strong molecular bonds.

The team said the material could be used to create a new class of fuels or an energy storage device, although its practical application is still a long way off.

It also has such strong oxidising abilities that it could be used to destroy agents found in chemical and biological weapons.

Scientists, led by chemistry professor Choong-Shik Yoo, created the material by squeezing xenon difluoride (XeF2) — a white crystal used to etch silicon conductors — between two small diamond anvils just several inches in size.

The pressure of more than one million atmospheres transformed the XeF2, giving it a graphite-like two-dimensional structure. This process transferred the device’s mechanical energy into chemical energy in the newly created molecular bonds.

‘You can think of it as a polymer and the energy storage process was polymerising the XeF2,’ Yoo told The Engineer. ‘About 90 per cent of the empty space in the substance was used to store energy.’

Although the amount of energy stored in the material has not yet been calculated exactly, Yoo said it was comparable with a polymer form of nitrogen, which has three to five times the amount of energy found in the most powerful explosives used today.

‘In the last 50 years, scientists have increased the power of explosives by about 10 per cent every decade. So a three to five times increase is enormous,’ he said.

The team is now studying ways of producing the material in larger quantities and ensuring its stability for use in practical applications.

The research was partly funded by the US Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, as well as the National Science Foundation.