Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power Science Technology

New Material Can Store Vast Amounts of Energy 253

Posted by timothy
from the ok-let's-squash-more-stuff dept.
ElectricSteve writes "Using super-high pressures similar to those found deep in the Earth or on a giant planet, researchers from Washington State University (WSU) have created a compact, never-before-seen material capable of storing vast amounts of energy. Described by one of the researchers as 'the most condensed form of energy storage outside of nuclear energy,' the material holds potential for creating a new class of energetic materials or fuels, an energy storage device, super-oxidizing materials for destroying chemical and biological agents, and high temperature superconductors."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

New Material Can Store Vast Amounts of Energy

Comments Filter:
  • Batteries (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CarpetShark (865376) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:12AM (#32797562)

    This will be awesome for mobile devices, if they can make it cheap and compact enough.

    • by toastar (573882) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:15AM (#32797574)

      ... compact enough.

      funny

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CarpetShark (865376)

        On the face of it, yes, but the problem is that they've said the material is compact. Whether they can make compact batteries and compact, cheap battery chargers is another question entirely. I doubt they can, considering the pressures involved to make the material.

        • Re:Batteries (Score:5, Interesting)

          by AndGodSed (968378) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:57AM (#32797770) Homepage Journal

          I wonder, it takes pressures to make diamonds, but the resulting material is not under pressure. I think the correct term is under stress?

          So the material might be made by using pressure, but the resulting product is not under pressure stress?

          • Re:Batteries (Score:5, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 05, 2010 @07:04AM (#32797986)

            Sorry, I'm too lazy to log in. PhD in materials science, etc.

            It's called a metastable state. It is stable because local perturbations to the structure raise the energy. If you heated diamonds up enough, they would turn to graphite because they are not the most stable state of carbon at room temperature and pressure. So, diamonds are "metastable" because they aren't truly "stable" but they also won't change on timescales that we work with due to kinetic limitations. Theoretically the diamonds will eventually become graphite, but the probability is extremely low because the thermal energy isn't high enough to let it move.

            Also, where else but the internet do random people with PhDs in materials science happen by these sorts of questions? I am very happy that I can answer your question, because thermodynamics is some of the coolest math I have ever seen.

            • by AndGodSed (968378)

              Thanks for taking the time to answer!

              I had exactly the same "only on the internet" thought while I was reading your reply.

              Thanks again.

              cheers

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by gardyloo (512791)

              I dunno. Try coming to the "Cowboy Breakfast"s in Los Alamos. I guarantee that if you strike up a conversation with a random stranger, he or she will have worked on some wacky stuff -- and might even be allowed to talk about it!

    • Re:Batteries (Score:5, Informative)

      by petaflop (682818) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:22AM (#32797600)
      I suspect it is completely useless to batteries, unfortunately. To 'charge' the material you need a diamond anvil cell capable of generating a million atmospheres.

      It's not clear to me if they've even got a way of releasing the energy (is the compressed form stable?). If they have, then you're going to have to generate electricity from the mechanical expansion of a solid. The most obvious way we achieve that currently is a coiled spring, which probably won't work in this case.

      As the article says, this is basic science.

      • I suspect it is completely useless to batteries, unfortunately. To 'charge' the material you need a diamond anvil cell capable of generating a million atmospheres.

        It's not clear to me if they've even got a way of releasing the energy (is the compressed form stable?). If they have, then you're going to have to generate electricity from the mechanical expansion of a solid. The most obvious way we achieve that currently is a coiled spring, which probably won't work in this case.

        As the article says, this is basic science.

        I suspect it is completely useless to batteries, unfortunately. To 'charge' the material you need a diamond anvil cell capable of generating a million atmospheres.

        It's not clear to me if they've even got a way of releasing the energy (is the compressed form stable?). If they have, then you're going to have to generate electricity from the mechanical expansion of a solid. The most obvious way we achieve that currently is a coiled spring, which probably won't work in this case.

        As the article says, this is basic science.

        Not that it's explained but the article says the mechanical energy is stored as chemical energy. Presumably a chemical process could release it but I also assume the material would be consumed. In short it's a fuel not a battery. But there is not enough info to tell.

    • by thijsh (910751) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:30AM (#32797638) Journal
      Why do people always consider the mobile devices first??? Think big first:
      - Energy storage for renewable to allow baseline operation
      - Car fuel that only needs to be refilled monthly
      - Backup generators that don't require huge fuel tanks
      ...and finally after all other things bigger have been made to run on this you start creating the smaller versions.

      You never want to start small with new technology. Remember the problem with exploding Nokia's? I would not let a higher energy density version near my head until it's been tested in practice for years, no need to nuke my own head off...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Thanshin (1188877)

      This will be awesome for mobile devices, if they can make it cheap and compact enough.

      Unless it weights 1kg/cm3

    • by damburger (981828)
      Putting aside the issue of how you recharge it (lets assume you move to disposables) then its of little use anyway. Battery life isn't so much of an issue as power consumption, and what is limiting us in increasing the latter is not energy density it is heat. Lithium ion batteries are about as efficient as they can be, so every extra milliwatt you want to draw for your latest mobile ubertoy is going to up the amount of heat being pumped into the users pockets/testicles, regardless of how good your engineeri
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:25AM (#32797614)

    They can store, but how do one extract the energy ?

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      Well, it's a metal... so I'm gunna take a wild guess and say electricity might flow through it.. that's all I've got.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anachragnome (1008495)

      When I was a kid, one could throw a AA battery against the ground, real hard, and have a roughly 25% chance of it going bang, releasing all the energy at once. At least I assume that was what powered the small explosion. The cheap Chinese ones that sometimes came with toys had a much higher explosion rate. It was like getting free firecrackers with every battery powered toy.

      Not what you had in mind though, I suspect.

      My guess would be a chemical reaction that cracked the material into component materials, re

    • by kubitus (927806)
      remember the very old toys which still appear in cartoons: with a wind-up clockwork?

      -

      that will it be: you crank it up and let the clockwork drive your car!

    • I think some folks forget that we already have some things with amazing energy densities out there. Semtex would be a good example. It is stable, moldable, and stores a whole lot of energy. However, the way it releases its energy is as an explosion, it is a plastic explosive. Well that makes it not so useful as a battery. For batteries, you want a slow release of energy, and you want that energy in an electrical form, of course. We have all kinds of substances with high energy densities, but that doesn't me

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by confused one (671304)
        Inside your automobile is a fuel that is vaporized inside a chamber, in small quantities, and ignited. It burns vigorously, creating pressure that pushes on a piston and rotates a crankshaft. Should you wish to substitute the fuel with Semtex, well this is just an engineering problem... Using a sufficiently small quantity, pumped into the chamber in a controlled fashion, you could run an engine on Semtex. Three problems come to mind: (1) Is there any byproduct that would build up on the internal engin
    • by ascari (1400977)
      That's the easy one: BOOOOOOOOM!
  • Energy density? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Plazmid (1132467) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:29AM (#32797636)
    Anyone care to do the energy density calculation on a mass basis? Also I wonder how efficient the process is at converting mechanical energy to chemical energy?(it's almost like a gasoline engine running in reverse!)
    • by kubitus (927806)
      watch out!

      -

      one more turn and you create a black hole!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ascari (1400977)

      it's almost like a gasoline engine running in reverse!

      Crap. Most people don't know how to parallel park any more much less going in reverse down the highway. May as well file this invention with personal jetpacks and flying cars.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Indeed the linked article (I actually read it) only mentions that this material can store mechanical energy - it doesn't give any hints on practical ways of getting the energy in (such high pressures are not easy to get to), and not a single hint on how it could be possible to get the energy out in a controlled way.

  • by eclectro (227083) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:32AM (#32797644)

    Using super-high pressures similar to those found deep in the Earth or on a giant planet

    In other words, it's unobtanium [wikipedia.org].

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:34AM (#32797650) Homepage Journal

    Hahaha.. this so reminds me of this [phdcomics.com].

    Folks, what they've done is make Xenon Octa-fluoride, which is an order of magnitude harder than the previously created Xenon Tera-fluoride.

    As cool as it is that some chemists have managed to make a new compound that had only been theorized before, it's not enough for the drooling media. So they try to explain why it is remotely relevant and interesting, and the media replies with this sort of gross stupidity.

    Science reporting at its finest.

  • Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sonicmerlin (1505111) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:35AM (#32797658)
    This isn't going to find its way into any consumer products. 70 GPa? No federal agency would certify such a device to be sold into the hands of Joe Schmoe. The more meaningful consequence of this research is the demonstration of storing mechanical energy into chemical energy. In 20 years this may lead to innovations in energy storage on a massive scale, like in solar or wind power plants.
    • You only get to that pressure if you have a diamond anvil. If you want to store enough to power a car you will need one hell of an anvil.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Chrisq (894406)

        You only get to that pressure if you have a diamond anvil. If you want to store enough to power a car you will need one hell of an anvil.

        I can see a remake of "diamonds are forever" coming.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      Awesome for terrorists.

      But if it could be made safe it would be interesting to use in cars and other vehicles.

  • by Cyberax (705495) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:36AM (#32797668)

    XeF2 produces _atomic_ fluorine during decomposition. Just thinking about it makes me shiver.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 05, 2010 @07:26AM (#32798080)

      There's people playing with a lot nastier compounds out there...
      http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/things_i_wont_work_with/
      Dioxygen Difluoride is one of the more spectacular WTF, another "favorite" is chlorine trifluoride which is hypergolic with lots of things including ordinarily benign materials such as sand!

      • by Cyberax (705495)

        Waaaah! Just reading about FOOF made me cringe. It's even worse than watching horror films.

    • by bertok (226922)

      XeF2 produces _atomic_ fluorine during decomposition. Just thinking about it makes me shiver.

      The best thing is that Xenon is a general anaesthetic, and Fluorine is a local anaesthetic.

      That's a great combo for consumer gear!

      You won't even feel it when you die!

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      What seems even crazier to me is that they start off with XeF2, then go to XeF4 and end up with XeF8.

      In a closed system.

      Where does the extra F come from, or where does the excess Xe go? Same issue when going in the opposite direction.

  • What next? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rophuine (946411) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:39AM (#32797678) Homepage
    Niling d-sink. BAM. Next, the Commonwealth is invaded by a malicious alien.
  • the most condensed form of energy storage outside of nuclear energy. And totally undetectable by radiation detectors, and presumably because this was achieved by a University research team well within the capabilities of a number of countries. Doesn't it make you feel safe to know that they published ful details in Nature [nature.com].
    • by petaflop (682818) on Monday July 05, 2010 @06:05AM (#32797816)
      Yes, I feel perfectly safe. The energy is just as dangerous as the vast amounts of nuclear energy stored in the atomic nuclei of the apple sitting on my desk.
      • by Thanshin (1188877)

        Yes, I feel perfectly safe. The energy is just as dangerous as the vast amounts of nuclear energy stored in the atomic nuclei of the apple sitting on my desk.

        For a second there, I imagined a guy in a radiation suit; next to his mouse, a apple, green glow pulsating on phase with a deep buzzing sound.

  • by bertok (226922) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:43AM (#32797716)

    I used to study batteries and capacitors and the like in relation to energy storage, and one interesting comment I heard once was that storage utilising only chemical or electromagnetic methods cannot store more energy in a given lump of matter than the energy contained in its chemical bonds, otherwise the stored energy exceeds the "binding strength" of the substance, and it's liable to either leak the energy, not accept any more, or even explode.

    This is true of even things like Ultracapacitors or flywheel storage, both of which have similar issues with breakdown largely caused by limited bond strength, despite neither using chemical energy storage.

    This kind of "high pressure storage" seems to break this rule if you consider only the compressed material itself as the storage medium. If you factor in the anvil generating those pressures, then you'll find that the total system is probably quite bad at energy storage per kg of matter. There's no escaping this.

    The pressure they were using is over 100GPa (1 million atmospheres), which is notably higher than the highest tensile strength of carbon nanotubes ever measured! There's no chance in hell that a practical container could be made to contain a material at those pressures. First of all, it would have to be atomically perfect, and second, it would violently explode if it received the slightest damage!

    What the article was saying is that some of the energy imparted by the compression was stored as chemical energy. This is all fine and good, but I guarantee that if the pressure is lowered, that energy is released, and none of it can be stored at normal pressures.

    Trust a dumbass journalist to rewrite that to mean that suddenly our electric cars will be powered by Xenon Fluoride compressed by diamond anvils, even though the original research paper doesn't mention anything of the sort!

    • by nbauman (624611) on Monday July 05, 2010 @07:00AM (#32797978) Homepage Journal

      Trust a dumbass journalist to rewrite that to mean that suddenly our electric cars will be powered by Xenon Fluoride compressed by diamond anvils, even though the original research paper doesn't mention anything of the sort!

      It wasn't the journalist who wrote the bit about "potential for creating a new class of energetic materials or fuels, an energy storage device, super-oxidizing materials for destroying chemical and biological agents, and high temperature superconductors," it was the university PR office. http://www.wsunews.wsu.edu/pages/Publications.asp?Action=Release&PublicationID=20580 [wsu.edu] The researcher reviews and approves the press release before the university sends it out.

      So you can trust the dumbass scientist to hype his research in the hope of getting more funding.

    • by SharpFang (651121)

      You're neglecting the possibility for the material being its own container on molecular level.

      Imagine a crystal of structure similar to graphite - layers of fairly dense material separated by wide distances. It is normally moderately brittle and low-energy. Now assume this crystal has no electric connection between the layers but the layers themselves are conductive. Apply altering charge to each of them. The thing becomes a capacitor with each layer pulled closer to the next. The bonds between layers get c

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bertok (226922)

        Except that if the alternating layers have opposite charges, those charges set up an electric field, which will pull electrons from one side to another, and the charges cancel. There doesn't need to be a "connection", the electrons will cross the space between the layers anyway.

        If you place an insulator between the layers, then you've just invented a garden variety capacitor, but the problem remains: with sufficient charge, the electric field between the layers will exceed the breakdown voltage of the insul

    • by jbengt (874751)

      . . . it would violently explode if it received the slightest damage!

      Not necessarily

      The mechanical stresses from great pressures will not cause much movement when decompressed, and so will not create an explosion, if the substance is very stiff (which is a reason liquids rather than gases are often preferred fluids for high pressure testing of piping systems)

      The stored chemical bonding energy will not be explosively released by "the slightest damage" if the substance is metastable. (see other posters' comments about diamonds)

  • by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:57AM (#32797774)

    So, considering it "CAN", but not necessarily does store it, does that mean they're having some motivational issues with this material?

    Will this evolve into chemical psychology?

    • by gclef (96311)

      Yes...and we already know that the materials won't perform as well if they're all doped up.

  • Obviously, the obligatory Futurama allusion...
  • by Wdi (142463) on Monday July 05, 2010 @07:06AM (#32797998)

    The substance is not stable when the pressure is released - it immediately decomposes. Carrying around the whole set-up where the typical payload (i.e. the compressed substance) is maybe 0.1% of the total weight of the apparatus is of course impractical. Also, this kind of high-pressure research is not exactly new. There are many published similar experiments where compounds undergo interesting crystal structure changes at ultra-high pressures. Nevertheless, bond strenghts limit what extra energy you can store in crystal structure variants. Xe-F bonds are definitely not among the strongest.

    Currently, the only remotely realistic method for radical improvements in stored energy per weight are metastable isotopes, but even that is a far shot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by StormReaver (59959)

      Currently, the only remotely realistic method for radical improvements in stored energy per weight are metastable isotopes, but even that is a far shot.

      The only reason you're saying that is because we aren't currently facing an imminent extinction event that can be cured with a bit of metastable isotopic unobtainium. If Hollywierd has taught us anything, it's that nothing is impossible in the face of an imminent extinction event. It seems to be the only way to get those evil scientists to share their horded knowledge.

  • From the summary, as best I can tell, we have invented Energon cubes. Drink it up, Autobots.

  • Someone tell me I'm not the only one questioning that "magazine" title. Do they mention super-strong glues anywhere, or can no one get those html pages apart to read them?

  • Anyone else reminded of that mythical, conspiracy-nut material from Russia that is supposed to be able to set off thermonuclear reactions without a fission primary? Imagine if you had a pellet of lithium deuteride, surrounded by a sphere of this stuff, then imploded with high explosives...

    Of course, the actual research doesn't suggest anything nearly that exciting (and if it did, I doubt it would get published in Nature...) - its just the press release being a bit overzealous as usual.

  • What happens when a car with this stuff gets into a crash and we see the sudden release of a few million atmospheres of pressure. In other news I hear that Ford is bring back the Pinto to use this technology.
  • Next step: the biosprings from The Windup Girl [wikipedia.org].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 05, 2010 @10:18AM (#32799122)

    -thus young Daniel Shipstone saw at once that the problem was not a shortage of energy but lay in the transporting of energy. Energy is everywhere-in sunlight, in wind, in mountain streams, in temperature gradients of all sorts wherever found, in coal, in fossil oil, in radioactive ores, in green growing things. Especially in ocean depths and in outer space energy is free for the taking in amounts lavish beyond all human comprehension.
    Those who spoke of "energy scarcity" and of "conserving energy" simply did not understand the situation. The sky was "raining soup"; what was needed was a bucket in which to carry it.
    With the encouragement of his devoted wife Muriel (nee Greentree), who went back to work to keep food on the table, young Shipstone resigned from General Atomics and became the most American of myth-heroes, the basement inventor. Seven frustrating and weary years later he had fabricated the first Shipstone by hand. He had found-What he had found was a way to pack more kilowatt-hours into a smaller space and a smaller mass than any other engineer had ever dreamed of. To call it an "improved storage battery" (as some early accounts did) is like calling an H-bomb an "improved firecracker." What he had achieved was the utter destruction of the biggest industry (aside from organized religion) of the western world.

    For what happened next I must draw from the muckraking history and from other independent sources as I just don't believe the sweetness and light of the company version. Fictionalized speech attributed to Muriel Shipstone:

    "Danny Boy, you are not going to patent the gadget. What would it get you? Seventeen years at the most. . . and no years at all in threefourths of the world. If you did patent or try to, Edison, and P. G. and E., and Standard would tie you up with injunctions and law suits and claimed infringements and I don't know what all. But you said yourself that you could put one of your gadgets in a room with the best research team G.A. has to offer and the best they could do would be to melt it down and the worst would be that they would blow themselves up. You said that. Did you mean it?"
    "Certainly. If they don't know how I insert the-"
    "Hush! I don't want to know. And walls have ears. We don't make any fancy announcements; we simply start manufacturing. Wherever power is cheapest today. Where is that?"

    The Shipstone complex is mammoth, all right, because they supply cheap power to billions of people who want cheap power and want more of it every year. But it is not a monopoly because they don't own any power; they just package it and ship it around to wherever people want it. Those billions of customers could bankrupt the Shipstone complex almost overnight by going back to their old ways-burn coal, burn wood, burn oil, burn uranium, distribute power through continent-wide stretches of copper and aluminum wires and/or long trains of coal cars and tank cars.
    But no one, so far as my terminal could dig out, wants to go back to the bad old days when the landscape was disfigured in endless ways and the very air was loaded with stinks and carcinogens and soot, and the ignorant were scared silly by nuclear power, and all power was scarce and expensive. No, nobody wants the bad old ways-even the most radical of the complainers want cheap and convenient power. . . they just want the Shipstone companies to go away and get lost.
    "The people's right to know"-the people's right to know what? Daniel Shipstone, having first armed himself with great knowledge of higher mathematics and physics, went down into his basement and patiently suffered seven lean and weary years and thereby learned an applied aspect of natural law that let him construct a Shipstone.
    Any and all of "the people" are free to do as he did-he did not even take out a patent. Natural laws are freely available to everyone equally, including flea-bitten Neanderthals crouching against the cold.
    In this case, the trouble with "the people's right to know" is that it strongly resembles the "right" of someone to be a concert pianist-but who does not want to practice.
    But I am prejudiced, not being human and never having had any rights.

"Our vision is to speed up time, eventually eliminating it." -- Alex Schure

Working...