Through the science and wonder of slowly crushing things into smaller things, scientists at Washington State University have created a tiny battery that is second only to the big, dangerous Kahuna of nuclear power when it comes to the storage of mechanical energy.
Tired of never having AA's around when he really needed them, chemistry professor Choong-Shik Yoo decided it was time to get his science hat on and start inventing. He started with the basic premise essential to all pressure-related experiments - crushing stuff yields results.
If this "stuff" is a car or hastily imbibed Red Bull before a long and imposing chemistry exam, the result of a pressure experiment is merely a crushed husk and the memory of a slightly entertaining event. If however, one starts crushing compounds instead of "stuff", some cool-ass things start to happen.
Take Xenon Difluoride (XeF2). Normally, good old XeF2 likes to chill out in white powder form, just waiting for someone to come along and use it to etch silicon conductors. Sure, the work isn't glamorous, but it pays the bills.
Yoo saw something more. Just hanging around the lab at normal atmospheric pressure, the molecules in XeF2 are fairly far apart - football field-ish distance out here in the real world - so there's actually a great deal of room for compression.
Fortunately, Yoo had a very nice set of compressing tools at his disposal - two diamond anvil cells, which are 2"x3" devices used to put materials under a stunning amount of pressure.
Action shot: This will crush things!
We're not talking an atmosphere or two here, or even somewhere in the low 1000s. We're talking about a pressure approximately equally to the one found halfway to the center of the earth.
How much pressure is that, you ask? Oh, only about 1,000,000 atmospheres. You know, no big deal.
Under a moderate amount of pressure, the molecules in the XeF2 actually compress to an almost two dimensional structure, closely resembling that of a graphite semiconductor. Once the pressure reaches the insane target levels, the molecules in the compound form tiny, metallic network structures that are able to store all of the mechanical energy used to compress them in their chemical bonds.
This is super cool.
We do have two questions, however.
First - did the lab blow up when the anvil's pressure was released and the compound was once again unleashed to roam around under normal atmospheric pressure? Since no mention of this was made in the University's press release, we'll concede that this catastrophe was likely averted. This time.
Secondly - will these come in a rechargeable version?
Ooh, also - will there be a four-pack? Two seems like enough, but it never really is. You know how it goes.
Alright, alright. We know the team has a great deal of work still to do before a commercial application is viable. We'll stop with the battery of questions.
Yikes. Long way to go for that one.