Using super-high pressures similar to those found deep in the Earth, Washington State University (WSU) researchers have created a compact, never-before-seen material capable of storing vast amounts of energy.

“If you think about it, it is the most condensed form of energy storage outside of nuclear energy,” said Choong-Shik Yoo, a WSU chemistry professor and lead author of results published in the journal, Nature Chemistry.

The research is basic science, but Yoo said it shows it is possible to store mechanical energy into the chemical energy of a material with such strong chemical bonds. Possible future applications include creating the following: a new class of energetic materials or fuels, an energy-storage device, super-oxidizing materials for destroying chemical and biological agents, and high-temperature superconductors.

At normal atmospheric pressure, the material’s molecules stay relatively far apart from each other. But as researchers increased the pressure inside the chamber, the material became a two-dimensional, graphite-like semiconductor. The researchers eventually increased the pressure to more than a million atmospheres, comparable to what would be found halfway to the center of the earth. All this “squeezing,” as Yoo called it, forced the molecules to make tightly bound three-dimensional metallic “network structures.” In the process, the huge amount of mechanical energy of compression was stored as chemical energy in the molecules’ bonds.

These principles could be applied to all battery technology, some of which could be used for utility backup power.