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Researchers Discover New Family of Pressure-Induced Materials Which Could Boost New Hydrogen Storage Technologies

The structure of the new material, Xe(H2)7. Freely rotating hydrogen molecules (red dumbbells) surround xenon atoms (yellow). Credit: Nature Chemistry. Click to enlarge.

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution have found for the first time that high pressure can be used to make a unique hydrogen-storage material. The discovery paves the way for an entirely new way to approach the hydrogen-storage problem. The paper was published online 22 November in the journal Nature Chemistry.

The researchers found that the normally unreactive noble gas xenon combines with molecular hydrogen (H2) under pressure to form a previously unknown solid with unusual bonding chemistry. The experiments are the first time these elements have been combined to form a stable compound. The discovery debuts a new family of materials, which could boost new hydrogen technologies.

Xenon has some intriguing properties, including its use as an anesthesia, its ability to preserve biological tissues, and its employment in lighting. Xenon is a noble gas, which means that it does not typically react with other elements.

Shift of distances under pressure. Credit: Nature Chemistry. Click to enlarge.

Elements change their configuration when placed under pressure, sort of like passengers readjusting themselves as the elevator becomes full. We subjected a series of gas mixtures of xenon in combination with hydrogen to high pressures in a diamond anvil cell. At about 41,000 times the pressure at sea level (1 atmosphere), the atoms became arranged in a lattice structure dominated by hydrogen, but interspersed with layers of loosely bonded xenon pairs. When we increased pressure, like tuning a radio, the distances between the xenon pairs changed—the distances contracted to those observed in dense metallic xenon.

—Maddury Somayazulu, research scientist at Carnegie’s Geophysical Laboratory and lead author

The researchers imaged the compound at varying pressures using X-ray diffraction, infrared and Raman spectroscopy. When they looked at the xenon part of the structure, they realized that the interaction of xenon with the surrounding hydrogen was responsible for the unusual stability and the continuous change in xenon-xenon distances as pressure was adjusted from 41,000 to 255,000 atmospheres (4.2 to 25.8 GPa).

We were taken off guard by both the structure and stability of this material,” said Przemek Dera, the lead crystallographer who looked at the changes in electron density at different pressures using single-crystal diffraction. As electron density from the xenon atoms spreads towards the surrounding hydrogen molecules, it seems to stabilize the compound and the xenon pairs.

Xenon is too heavy and expensive to be practical for use in hydrogen-storage applications, Somayazulu says, noting that by understanding how it works in this situation, researchers can come up with lighter substitutes.

It’s very exciting to come up with new hydrogen-rich compounds, not just for our interest in simple molecular systems, but because such discoveries can be the foundation for important new technologies. This hydrogen-rich solid represents a new pathway to forming novel hydrogen storage compounds and the new pressure-induced chemistry opens the possibility of synthesizing new energetic materials.

—Russell Hemley, director of the Geophysical Laboratory and a co-author

This research was funded by the US Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences hydrogen storage, and the National Science Foundation, Division of Materials Research.


  • Maddury Somayazulu, Przemyslaw Dera, Alexander F. Goncharov, Stephen A. Gramsch, Peter Liermann, Wenge Yang, Zhenxian Liu, Ho-kwang Mao & Russell J. Hemley (2009) Pressure-induced bonding and compound formation in xenon–hydrogen solids. Nature Chemistry doi: 10.1038/nchem.445



So they can do things with Xenon
And then they tell us Xenon is too heavy and expensive
Which means they can't do anything useful for the applications shown with Xenon
Which means they could have just not said anything, it would have been the same.

richard schumacher

Correct, no one will ever fill 'er up with xenon hydride. This is research to find new and unexpected principles that could perhaps be exploited in other ways.

It will be hard to beat the nearly ideal storage mechanism we already know: take one atom of H, attach it to one atom of C, then string a lot of these together to form a dense relatively stable liquid.


The headline is misleading and inappropriate. This is more of a pure science discovery. I think the 41,000 atm. (= 615,000 psi) is also a bit of a deal-breaker as well.

Henry Gibson

There was an amazing discovery made by plants a few billion years ago; Carbon can be combined with hydrogen to make concentrated liquid and solid fuels. Carbon can be taken out of the air and recycled when these fuels, foods, are used. Naturally radiactive humans can use nuclear energy to recycle carbon. Single cell animals had long since used up all of the fossil fuel hydrogen that the earth was born with and filled the atmosphere with the green house gas water. Humans may be descended from those single cell animals. ..HG..

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