Could a substance that resembles baby powder curb global carbon emissions?
Wake Forest University researchers believe so, and a new Department of Energy (DOE) grant worth more than $1 million will enable them and collaborators at the University of Texas at Dallas to design a novel material that could help revolutionize green engineering.Discovered less than a decade ago, a Metal Organic Framework (MOF) is a material scientists can engineer down to the molecular and atomic scale.
A microscopic view shows how each powdery crystal contains millions of metal ions joined together with organic bonds to form highly porous, three-dimensional structures.
Because they are inexpensive and can easily be grown overnight, MOFs hold enormous potential for a new generation of clean engineering, from super-efficient CO2 filters to helping make hydrogen powered vehicles a reality.
“The advantages of this stuff are mind blowing,” said Prof. Timo Thonhauser, a physicist at Wake Forest University. “Gas molecules such as methane and carbon dioxide easily diffuse into MOFs, which can store them in high quantities and with unprecedented selectivity.”
For example, a fuel tank filled with MOF crystals can store twice as much natural gas as its conventional counterpart, enabling a car to go twice as far on a single tank. Ecofuel World Tour driver Rainer Zietlow proved this by driving a Volkswagen automobile with a MOF tank more than 45,000 miles to test the utility of the technology.
A sponge-like gatekeeper
MOFs can be designed to attract and store specific molecules while letting others pass through their porous, grid-like structure. Thonhauser’s group is collaborating with scientists at the UT Dallas and Rutgers University to harness this capability by designing super-efficient filters to trap carbon dioxide emitted by industrial plants.
To date, trapping individual carbon dioxide atoms from car engines or coal plants has been difficult because the molecules are so small. “If the pores in a filter are too big everything is going to go through,” Thonhauser said. “Conventional filters are too coarse to catch most of this stuff. So we need to develop something that can selectively filter out specific, small atoms.”
Thonhauser explains that one challenge with current MOF filters is that while they can trap carbon dioxide emitted when burning a fossil fuel like coal they also hold on to water molecules. “Once the water builds up, the filter won’t hold on to CO2 anymore,” he said.
This is where Brian Shoemaker, an undergraduate research fellow in Thonhauser’s lab, comes in. He is swapping different metals like magnesium, iron, gold and platinum into a computer simulation to see which types of metals work best in a MOF carbon dioxide filter.
“What you really want is a filter on a molecular level that picks up one guy among hundreds of others,” Shoemaker, a rising senior, said. “This is a really exciting project to work on because it is something that really hasn’t been done to date.”
Parting the sea
Shoemaker is also helping Thonhauser with another piece of MOF-based research that could help make the world a much cleaner place.
“In the future, we envision cars that run on hydrogen instead of gas,” Thonhauser said. “One of the big questions that remains in this line of research is where do I get the hydrogen?”
Our preliminary studies suggest the possibility of MOF materials being used to split water – one of the world’s most abundant natural resources – into its separate components, hydrogen and oxygen.
Thonhauser explains that currently water can be split with various techniques, but those are all not very efficient.
“It is not clear by any means, but there is a possibility that MOFs might be able to split water effectively someday,” Thonhauser said. “Brian is testing different metals to see if we can find one that will bind oxygen while letting the hydrogen pass through. If that were the case, it would be mind-boggling. It is a long shot, but you just don’t know.”
Will Ferguson | Newswise
New biomaterial could replace plastic laminates, greatly reduce pollution
21.09.2017 | Penn State
Stopping problem ice -- by cracking it
21.09.2017 | Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.09.2017 | Life Sciences
21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine