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February 13, 2013

Carbon Sponge Could Absorb Coal Plant Emissions



Coal power emissions no longer have to simply “go up in smoke.” They could be drastically reduced by a new, energy-efficient material that adsorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide, then releases it when exposed to sunlight.

In a study published February 11 in “Angewandte Chemie,” scientists from Melbourne, Australia-based Monash University and the Highett, Australia-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), for the first time discussed their discovery of a  photosensitive metal-organic framework (MOF) – a class of materials known for their exceptional capacity to store gases.

This has created a powerful and cost-effective new tool to capture and store, or potentially recycle carbon dioxide.

MOFs are clusters of metal atoms, connected by organic materials. Due to their extremely high internal surface area – which could cover an entire football field in a single gram – they can store large volumes of gases, such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide.


Image via Monash University

By using sunlight to release the stored carbon, the new material overcomes the problems of expense and inefficiency associated with today’s energy-intensive methods of carbon capture. Current technologies use liquid capture materials that are then heated in a prolonged process to release the carbon dioxide for storage.

Associate Professor Bradley Ladewig of the Monash Department of Chemical Engineering said the MOF was an exciting development in emissions reduction technology. "For the first time, this has opened up the opportunity to design carbon capture systems that use sunlight to trigger the release of carbon dioxide," he said. "This is a step-change in carbon capture technologies."

PhD student Richelle Lyndon, lead author of the paper, said the breakthrough, known as “dynamic photo-switching,” was accomplished with light-sensitive azobenzene molecules. "The MOF can release the absorbed carbon dioxide when irradiated with light found in sunlight, just like wringing out a sponge," Lyndon explained. "The MOF we discovered had a particular affinity for carbon dioxide. However, the light-responsive molecules could potentially be combined with other MOFs, making the capture and release technology appropriate for other gases."

The researchers, led by Professor Matthew Hill of CSIRO, will now optimize the material to increase the efficiency of carbon dioxide to levels suitable for an industrial environment. The study was supported by Australia’s Science and Industry Endowment Fund.




Edited by Braden Becker

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