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Hydrogen fuel balls

By Peter N. Spotts / March 27, 2008



The name's Bond, Atomic Bond. And when it comes to carbon, atomic bonds linking carbon atoms are some of the strongest. That trait may allow tiny carbon spheres known as buckyballs to become mini fuel tanks for a future generation of fuel cells, say scientists at Rice University in Houston. They've calculated that these soccer ball-like structures – ranging from 60 to 2,000 atoms in size – can hold hydrogen under such intense pressure that the hydrogen nearly turns into a metal.

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The research stems from efforts to find ways to cram more hydrogen into tighter spaces so that fuel cells can be small and strong enough to be practical for powering cars and trucks. Experiments had established that buckyballs could hold tiny amounts of hydrogen. The Rice team, led by Boris Yakobson, figured out a way to calculate how much hydrogen a buckyball of a given size could hold and at what point adding more hydrogen would burst the ball to release the gas.

The team acknowledges that ways still must be found to produce the tiny fuel tanks and fill them in a practical and cost-effective way. But if a way can be found, it likely would lead to buckyball-hydrogen crystals or a fine powder of hydrogen-packing buckyballs in your tank. The research appears in the current issue of the journal Nano Letters.