Fluorine can be compressed into both a semiconductor and crystalline metal. Applications could range from an ultra-powerful oxidizer for destroying toxic microbes to super-efficient fuel cells to room-temperature superconductors.
By inserting xenon di-fluoride (XeF2, a material used to etch silicon conductors) between two diamond anvils and applying almost half-a-million atmospheres (50 GPa), the researchers produced a two-dimensional graphite-like semiconductor. The application of almost 1 million atmospheres (100 Gpa) yielded crystalline metal.
The researchers said their next step will be to synthesize the materials on a larger scale and find ways to stabilize them under ambient conditions. Applications also could include superconducting materials.
“There is theoretical work, which has not been published yet, that indicates that superconductivity may be achieved in these fluorine materials,” said Yoo.
Technology Review reports that the XeF2 stores about 1 kilajoule of energy per gram, or “about 10% of the energy stored in a rocket fuel of liquid H2 and O2 mixtures, or about 20% of [the energy stored in] one of the most powerful explosives, HMX,” says Yoo. When viewed as a potential energy storage medium, this discovery qualifies as “a new class of energetic molecules or solid fuels,” he adds.
Until we figure out how to build rocket-powered consumer electronics, the trick to turning XeF2 into a viable means for storing and releasing energy is to figure out what sort of impurities to add to make it “metastable,” just like all the combustible fossil fuels we are surrounded by, which we call plastics.