More than a decade ago, theoreticians predicted that nitrogen, the major constituent of air, could assume a three-dimensional, polymeric structure. Now, chemists have made this polymeric nitrogen, and they say it might someday serve as a lightweight, high-energy storage material that could outperform conventional explosives, rocket fuels, and even automotive fuel.
In its most stable configuration, nitrogen is a two-atom molecule—a pair of nitrogen atoms locked together by a triple bond. According to computer simulations, however, nitrogen atoms rearranged into a 3-D network could pack several times as much energy per unit of volume than do some of the most powerful explosives available today.
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