GEMZ Corp., a nanotech startup, is set to acquire an exclusive license to a new thermal acoustic process for the production of bucky balls—C60—to be used for the storage of hydrogen.
While the technology is still conceptual, and its development is “uncertain and fraught with risk,” according to GEMZ, it could open the way for hydrogen storage in C60 at a cost two orders of magnitude lower than current technology permits. GEMZ estimates that the thermal acoustic technique is potentially more efficient than the four methods currently used for producing C60, all of which consume too much energy in the manufacturing process for them to be cost effective.
Bucky balls, also known as Buckminster Fullerenes, after the architect Buckminster Fuller, are the roundest and most symmetrical large molecule known. Discovered in 1985 by Professors Smalley, Curl and Kroto (for which they won the Nobel Prize in 1996), bucky balls are hollow clusters of 60 carbon atoms, shaped like soccer balls.
The C60 molecule has the special property of being able to absorb large numbers of hydrogen atoms without disrupting the bucky ball structure. This property suggests that C60 may be a better storage medium for hydrogen than metal hydrides, the best current material, and hence possibly a key factor in the development of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.
In 2003, Japanese researchers using a bucky ball derivative successfully inserted a hydrogen molecule into the molecular cage at the lowest energy cost then to date. The image above is from the paper describing their work: the H2 molecule is shown as the space-filling model in the center, and the host C60 molecule is shown as a stick model.
GEMZ is clearly taking a gamble—and will be using the fact of the licensing to raise the funds necessary to develop a practical proof of concept of the new technology. But these are the types of developments and breakthroughs—and gambles—necessary for widespread hydrogen usage to be viable.