With a big battery of silicon and a few hundred million dollars of government funding, it’s easy to imagine that we’ll be using this technology to power the next generation of cars, homes and even our computers.
But with the promise of a carbon-neutral power source and a price tag that will keep it affordable for decades to come, rubber hexes may be destined to become one of the most enduring pieces of the renewable energy puzzle.
The question now is how far they will go.
“The challenge is to ensure that they don’t take over the world,” says David Pimentel, a professor of energy and climate at Columbia University and the director of the Carbon Engineering Group at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“There is no doubt they’re going to be a massive disruptive technology.”
What is a rubber hex?
As the name suggests, rubber is made up of a couple of strands of carbon and hydrogen atoms arranged in a triangle.
The carbon atoms have a positive charge and hydrogen ions have a negative charge.
When one of these atoms is exposed to an electric field, it splits into two smaller pieces, called hexagons, which can then be separated by heat.
The hexagons then fuse to form a new hexagon that has a positive and negative charge, respectively.
In the 1960s, researchers at the US Department of Energy were working on ways to harness the power of this process, but the hexagons were too large to fit on a battery and so they used a method called lithography, in which a single hexagon is pressed against a flat plate to create a sheet of silicon.
In this way, the hexagon can be made to stretch to a diameter of 10 nanometres, much smaller than the diameter of the battery.
But it wasn’t until the 1970s that researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory began to develop a process that could produce hexagons of a different size and shape.
This was achieved by using an electrostatic deflection technique, which means that the hexagonal hexagons can be deflected, which changes the shape of the hexahedron and reduces its energy density.
It was this deflection method that enabled researchers to produce hexagonal rubber hexagons at a size of 0.1 nanometre, which is about the size of a single rubber hex.
The discovery was not without controversy, however, as the size and strength of rubber hexs is so low that they would only be suitable for high-energy applications like powering smartphones.
So, how did these researchers achieve such low-energy rubber hexagonal production?
The researchers first had to find a way to use a chemical that would make rubber hexagon sheets.
The technique they used was called chemical vapor deposition, or CVD.
The process involves using an ionic liquid electrolyte, which contains hydrogen and carbon ions, to vaporise hydrogen and oxygen atoms, creating an electrochemical reaction between the two, which converts the hydrogen into energy.
In a similar way to the rubber hex, the researchers used a different method to produce their hexagonal, but much smaller, rubber, by adding a liquid electrolytic polymer to the process.
The polymer is a saltwater solution that is heated and then solidified into a polymer gel.
The process involves adding hydrogen to the polymer gel and then passing this liquid through a copper electrode to form the solid polymer.
The final product, which they were able to produce with only three parts of the process, is called a rubber polyurethane (RP).
It’s a material that has the strength to resist electrostatic forces but can also be made flexible and flexible enough to fit onto batteries, which have the same energy density as silicon.
The researchers are now working on making RP more versatile, by developing ways to make RP that can be used to make other materials that are both stronger and flexible.
But, as we all know, the rubber is still king.
A more recent breakthrough came from a team at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, led by researchers from Princeton University.
They created rubber hexohedrons using the same method as the rubber, but made them into hexagonal shape.
They also used an improved method for the synthesis of the polyureTHS, a polymeric material that is known to be stable and strong.
The new method was able to yield the polymeric RP that is a good candidate for making flexible batteries.
This discovery was based on the fact that graphene, the main material of rubber, has an unusual ability to be able to conduct electricity with a very low voltage, around 10 volts.
Graphene is also a very flexible material, and so the researchers were able, by using graphene as a cathode, to get a hexagonal form of graphene that is extremely strong and flexible, which in turn is a major advantage for the RP.
The next step is to make the polyures of the RP and the graphene polyureths, which will enable the researchers to make graphene that has more energy