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IIT-M creates ‘space fuel’ in lab

Hitavada 2019-01-10 08:52:24



IIT-Madras scientists have created what they call ‘space fuel’ by simulating interstellar conditions in the lab, a method that may be used to convert atmospheric CO2 into a next generation energy source on Earth.

The research, published in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ (PNAS), could help curb greenhouse gases as well as provide a new, sustainable source of energy.
“What we have found is that molecules like methane and ammonia in space could exist in a completely different form than what is known to us,” Thalappil Pradeep of IIT-Madras told PTI. Clathrate hydrates are molecules like methane, carbon dioxide, etc, trapped in well-defined cages of water molecules forming crystalline solids.

They are formed at high pressures and low temperatures at places such as the ocean floor, hundreds of metres below the sea level. They are also found in glaciers such as in Siberia.
Such hydrates especially that of methane, are thought to be the future sources of fuel. Many nations across the world including India have programmes to explore hydrates in ocean bed.  IIT-M researchers formed such hydrates in vacuum, one thousand billion times below the atmospheric pressure  called ultra-high vacuum (UHV) and temperature close to  minus 263 degree Celsius. These are the conditions present in deep space.

This discovery of hydrates is highly unexpected at extremely low pressures and ultra-cold temperatures and may have several implications for the chemistry of such atmospheres, Pradeep said. An experimental UHV was specially built for such studies, which housed several spectroscopic probes. Nanometre thin layers of ice and methane were prepared by condensing a mixture of the gases on a specially made single crystal of ruthenium metal. The ruthenium metal surface was cooled to low temperatures initially.  The results were verified with the hydrate formed by standard methods. Cages of water are not expected to form under such conditions.