Chemists describe a new form of ice

[and all we’ve been worried about is nanotech, DNA labs, and AI]


Research News


Scientists from the United States, China, and Russia have described the structure and properties of a novel hydrogen clathrate hydrate that forms at room temperature and relatively low pressure. Hydrogen hydrates are a potential solution for hydrogen storage and transportation, the most environmentally friendly fuel. The research was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Ice is a highly complex substance with multiple polymorphic modifications that keep growing in number as scientists make discoveries. The physical properties of ice vary greatly, too: for example, hydrogen bonds become symmetric at high pressures, making it impossible to distinguish a single water molecule, whereas low pressures cause proton disorder, placing water molecules in many possible spatial orientations within the crystal structure. The ice around us, including snowflakes, is always proton-disordered. Ice can incorporate xenon, chlorine, carbon dioxide, or methane molecules and form gas hydrates, which often have a different structure from pure ice. The vast bulk of Earth’s natural gas exists in the form of gas hydrates.

In their new study, chemists from the United States, China, and Russia focused on hydrogen hydrates. Gas hydrates hold great interest both for theoretical research and practical applications, such as hydrogen storage. If stored in its natural form, hydrogen poses an explosion hazard, whereas density is way too low even in compressed hydrogen. That is why scientists are looking for cost-effective hydrogen storage solutions.

“This is not the first time we turn to hydrogen hydrates. In our previous research, we predicted a novel hydrogen hydrate with 2 hydrogen molecules per water molecule. Unfortunately, this exceptional hydrate can only exist at pressures above 380,000 atmospheres, which is easy to achieve in the lab but is hardly usable in practical applications. Our new paper describes hydrates that contain less hydrogen but can exist at much lower pressures,” Skoltech professor Artem R. Oganov says.

The crystal structure of hydrogen hydrates strongly depends on pressure. At low pressures, it has large cavities which, according to Oganov, resemble Chinese lanterns, each accommodating hydrogen molecules. As pressure increases, the structure becomes denser, with more hydrogen molecules packed into the crystal structure, although their degrees of freedom become significantly fewer.

In their research published in the Physical Review Letters, the scientists from the Carnegie Institution of Washington (USA) and the Institute of Solid State Physics in Hefei (China) led by Alexander F. Goncharov, a Professor at these two institutions, performed experiments to study the properties of various hydrogen hydrates and discovered an unusual hydrate with 3 water molecules per hydrogen molecule. The team led by Professor Oganov used the USPEX evolutionary algorithm developed by Oganov and his students to puzzle out the compound’s structure responsible for its peculiar behavior. The researchers simulated the experiment’s conditions and found a new structure very similar to the known proton-ordered C1 hydrate but differing from C1 in water molecule orientations. The team showed that proton disorder should occur at room temperature, thus explaining the X-ray diffraction and Raman spectrum data obtained in the experiment.


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Interested Observer
December 22, 2020 10:41 pm

Oh no! It’s Ice-9… We’re all gonna die!

(Apologies to Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s ghost.)

Last edited 1 year ago by Interested Observer
Reply to  Interested Observer
December 22, 2020 11:42 pm

That was my immediate thought seeing the headline.

Reply to  OldGreyGuy
December 23, 2020 4:38 am

Mine, too. One can hope that it <i>disassociates</i> at a lower pressure than “relatively low” (whatever that means, other than below 380 kbar).

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  OldGreyGuy
December 23, 2020 5:20 am

Count me as a “me too”, as well.

Derek Wood
Reply to  OldGreyGuy
December 23, 2020 7:36 am

Me too! Does this make us part of a granfaloon?

Stephen Philbrick
Reply to  Derek Wood
December 23, 2020 12:11 pm

Nope. a granfalloon is a false karass, whose mutual association is meaningless. This is meaningful. Maybe not intensely or deeply meaningful, but more meaningful that the association among, say, Hoosiers.

John Bruce
December 22, 2020 10:53 pm

Hydrates are a mythical promise
Spent a year of my life proving that you could not use hydrates as a cheap transportation solution for of natural gas
British Gas spent 100′ of millions of pounds with a very large research group and found the same conclusion

Simply Hydrates are a not starter
Obviously humans are desperate to make an energy sink look like an energy source and yet again we are trying to reinvent a square wheel to prove that they work

Well I guess we need to fail but hope it does not destroy our way of life proving it

Reply to  John Bruce
December 23, 2020 12:26 am

At <i>3 water molecules per hydrogen molecule</i> it would be incredibly inefficient.

Loren C. Wilson
Reply to  Mike Jonas
December 23, 2020 7:39 am

If the ratio of 1 molecule of hydrogen per three molecules of water can be sustained, this works out to 0.0185 moles of hydrogen per ml of water. This compares very well with compressed hydrogen which only has 0.0072 moles of hydrogen per ml at 25°C and 20 MPa (2900 psia for those of us still using US Customary units). There are lots of other issues to worry about like stability, reversibility, recovery factor, etc. so they have not achieved a breakthrough quite yet. Certainly worth exploring some more.

Reply to  Loren C. Wilson
December 23, 2020 10:25 am

What’s the weight difference?

Reply to  Mike Jonas
December 23, 2020 9:44 am

In terms of weight but if transferring with pipelines or even cargo shipping {displacing water {ocean water} it’s not as inefficient,
Also hydrogen causes embrittlement {and leaks through material} if encased in
water, it should reduce that.
And safety is important- if reduces risks, it lower insurance costs.

Reply to  John Bruce
December 23, 2020 7:47 am

I like an ethanol hydrate from Scotland. Preferably single malt.

James D Huggins
Reply to  Curious George
December 23, 2020 1:15 pm

Good whisky doesn’t need hydration! Good Whiskey also doesn’t need hydration, neither also!

Reply to  James D Huggins
December 23, 2020 8:54 pm

As I was told by a distillery worker in Scotland, the only thing you should add to whisky is more whisky.

oeman 50
Reply to  James D Huggins
December 24, 2020 1:09 pm

All whiskey already has water in it. Some comes over in the distillation and then they add more to “correct” the proof.

Alasdair Fairbairn
December 23, 2020 1:36 am

I just hope these scientists do not forget the second Law of Thermodynamics when deciding whether this hydrate is worth the bother of producing it.

Reply to  Alasdair Fairbairn
December 23, 2020 9:32 am

From what I’ve seen, the second law hasn’t been taught for years, possible decades.

John Endicott
December 23, 2020 1:46 am

yes, but is this new ice rotten?

December 23, 2020 2:05 am

O/T I am finding it difficult to read comments with the giant stars before the comments and then the great big – + and return symbols between each comment is possible for me to make an adjustment? Sorry to post here but someone might be able to help.

[Sounds like a font size issue on a phone–mod]

December 23, 2020 2:53 am

“If stored in its natural form, hydrogen poses an explosion hazard, whereas density is way too low even in compressed hydrogen.”

Inserted by a media flak? Hydrogen needs oxygen to explode. If not catostrophically mixed and ignited, hydrogen just rises and dissipates. If released less slowly, hydrogen just burns.

“Density is too low” for what? The problem is hydrogen production, which takes more energy and wastes more than almost any other fuel.

Ammonia is already a great storage “medium” for hydrogen with an existing infrastructure. Methane is even better on both counts, and can be endlessly renewable.

Reply to  dk_
December 23, 2020 5:55 am

There is also the problem of hydrogen storage. It tends to leak through the crystal structure of the containers used to hold it. So not only is it expensive to produce, it needs to be used pretty shortly after production to keep it from escaping and making the already upside down economic model worse.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  dk_
December 23, 2020 7:28 am

Diesel is even better than methane. Liquid at normal temperatures an pressures. Non explosive. Not even easily flammable. Easily converted into energy by mature portable efficient technology.

Reply to  Walter Sobchak
December 23, 2020 7:46 am

The debate should be diesel vs kerosene.

David Dibbell
December 23, 2020 3:30 am

Better yet, imagine carbon-stabilized forms of hydrogen storage! Solid, liquid, or gas at atmospheric pressure – and in a range of properties to meet whatever the desired utilization concept requires. No good environmental reason not to try it. 🙂

Last edited 1 year ago by David Dibbell
Abolition Man
Reply to  David Dibbell
December 23, 2020 4:47 am

I like your idea! Besides the obvious versatility of the numerous possible compounds these carbon stabilized forms could take, their combustion products would be almost entirely hydrogen hydroxide and carbon dioxide; the basic building blocks of life! Other than the extreme danger of hydrogen hydroxide, which kills tens of thousands every year, I can’t see a down side to their use!
Perhaps you can obtain a research grant to investigate this further. Let me know if you need any help as I am dedicated to improving the life and health of all humanity and this could have huge benefits for decades or even centuries; there seems to be a nearly endless supply that can be economically extracted for our use!

Reply to  David Dibbell
December 23, 2020 5:53 am

Non-hydrated fuels; you might be on to something.

December 23, 2020 4:43 am

I have my own personal storage facility for hydrogen. The problem is, occasionally, some of it escapes and offends whoever is within 6 feet of me.

Abolition Man
Reply to  Sara
December 23, 2020 5:19 am

Since I now self-identify as a Native American lesbian woman, I feel that I must correct you: women do NOT release hydrogen gases, accidentally or otherwise! That is something only men, and especially white, cis-gendered men; are to be blamed for!
From my many months of living as a real woman, I want to make it clear to all that I never allow myself to release gaseous emissions and if, Heaven forbid, I did they would never include anything offensive! That would probably be hydrogen sulfide rather than mere hydrogen, or so I’ve been told anyway!

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Sara
December 23, 2020 5:23 am

Ehhhh, I think you are mistaking methane storage for hydrogen storage. Unless you view methane as merely a good way to store hydrogen.

Reply to  Sara
December 24, 2020 7:05 am

Well, see: They are not properly social distancing and their mask doesn’t work.

December 23, 2020 6:55 am

As far as I can tell, clathrates are a big deal. There’s the clathrate gun hypothesis which some folks think explains sudden changes in the climate. Alternately, it could explain sudden increases in atmospheric methane as the climate warms.

This paper describes the solubility of CO2 in water at various temperatures and pressures. At the temperatures and pressures that prevail in the deep ocean, it seems that clathrates are a major factor.

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