World’s heaviest material may be future energy source

May 12th, 2009 - 5:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Berlin, May 12 (IANS) German scientists have arguably created the world’s heaviest material, known as ‘ultra-dense deuterium’, a 10-cm cube of which would weigh as much as a steam locomotive or 130 tonnes.
The material, which would be a revolutionary source of energy, is produced from heavy hydrogen, also known as deuterium, and is therefore known as ‘ultra-dense deuterium’ (UDD). It is believed to play a role in the formation of stars.

The material is 100,000 times heavier than water and more dense than the sun’s core and is expected to provide energy that is more sustainable and less damaging than nuclear power used today.

Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen that is found in large quantities in water, more than one atom per 10,000 hydrogen atoms has a deuterium nucleus. The isotope is denoted “2H” or “D”, and is normally known as “heavy hydrogen”.

UDD is being produced and studied by scientists in atmospheric science at the department of chemistry, the University of Gothenburg (UG). So far, only microscopic amounts of the new material have been produced.

New measurements that have been published in two scientific journals, however, have shown that the distance between atoms in the material is much smaller than in normal matter.

Leif Holmlid, chemistry professor at the UG, believes that this is an important step on the road to commercial use of the material.

“One important justification for our research is that ultra-dense deuterium may be a very efficient fuel in laser driven nuclear fusion. It is possible to achieve nuclear fusion between deuterium nuclei using high-power lasers, releasing vast amounts of energy,” said Holmlid.

The laser technology has long been tested on frozen deuterium, known as “deuterium ice”, but results have been poor. It has proved to be very difficult to compress the deuterium ice sufficiently for it to attain the high temperature required to ignite the fusion.

UDD is a million times more dense than frozen deuterium, making it relatively easy to create a nuclear fusion reaction using high-power pulses of laser light.

“If we can produce large quantities of ultra-dense deuterium, the fusion process may become the energy source of the future. And it may become available much earlier than we have thought possible,” said Holmlid, according to an UG release.

“Further, we believe that we can design the deuterium fusion such that it produces only helium and hydrogen as its products, both of which are completely non-hazardous,” he said.

Deuterium is used in a number of conventional nuclear reactors in the form of heavy water (D2O), and it will probably also be used as fuel in fusion reactors in the future.

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