Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Super multi-use minerals unveiled

23.06.2008
This material forms around a third of the average packet of washing powder and helps refine 99 per cent of the world's petrol*.

It is also used to clean up nuclear waste. This extremely useful material is a zeolite. In its natural form it originates from volcanoes but it is synthesised for commercial purposes. A European team of scientists has revealed, for the first time, its chemical structure using the ESRF. This research, published in Nature Materials on 22 June, opens doors to more effective zeolites in the future.

Zeolites are crystalline white minerals, mostly made of aluminium, silicon and oxygen. Their structure is like molecular scaffolding, similar to a sieve. Thanks to this structure, they are frequently used as a “molecular sieve”. This means that with their pores they can separate different molecules and cause different reactions, which are crucial in treating petrol and producing chemicals. Zeolites can also provoke ion exchange, which is useful in water softening or in the removal of nuclear waste (by filtering the radioactive components).

Due to their importance in industry, there is extensive research on zeolites world-wide. However, a crucial aspect about these minerals is still not known. Their functioning and effectiveness depends on different parameters, such as the size of their pores and the distribution of aluminium in the structure of the zeolites. However, the location of the active aluminium remains unknown in many of these materials.

The team from the ETH Zurich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), Diamond Light source, the University of Torino and the University of Hamburg have determined unambiguously and directly the distribution of aluminium in zeolites using the technique of X-rays standing wave at the ESRF.

The object of the study was a scolecite zeolite, a natural mineral stemming from the zeolite-rich region of Puna in India. Natural zeolites are not so commonly used in industry because they tend to have more impurities than those synthesised, but they can be used in cleaning nuclear waste. After the Chernobyl catastrophe, tons of zeolites were used with the aim of cleaning the radioactively contaminated area.

The results from the experiments at the ESRF show optimism for the future of zeolites. “By being able to answer the question of where the active sites are, we open up the door to understanding the structure–performance relation. This will lead to ways of improving synthetic zeolites”, explains Jeroen van Bokhoven, corresponding author of the article in Nature Materials.

The next challenge for the team is to study synthetic zeolites with the same technique. Whilst natural zeolites, such as scolecite, contain crystals in the millimetre range, the synthetic ones tend to have much smaller grains, often not larger than a few micrometres. “We have also begun to investigate an industrial synthesised zeolite, but the study is as of yet not complete”, explains Joerg Zegenhagen, in charge of the ESRF beamline where experiments were carried out. “We are currently developing the different beamline elements so that in the very near future we can have the same exhaustive amount of information for synthetic zeolites as for scolecite”, he concludes.

*According to Material World, BBC4, 19 January 2006.

Montserrat Capellas | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esrf.fr/news/general/zeolites

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Physicists gain new insights into nanosystems with spherical confinement
27.07.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz

nachricht Getting closer to porous, light-responsive materials
26.07.2017 | Kyoto University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Abrupt motion sharpens x-ray pulses

Spectrally narrow x-ray pulses may be “sharpened” by purely mechanical means. This sounds surprisingly, but a team of theoretical and experimental physicists developed and realized such a method. It is based on fast motions, precisely synchronized with the pulses, of a target interacting with the x-ray light. Thereby, photons are redistributed within the x-ray pulse to the desired spectral region.

A team of theoretical physicists from the MPI for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in Heidelberg has developed a novel method to intensify the spectrally broad x-ray...

Im Focus: Physicists Design Ultrafocused Pulses

Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.

Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New 3-D imaging reveals how human cell nucleus organizes DNA and chromatin of its genome

28.07.2017 | Health and Medicine

Heavy metals in water meet their match

28.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Oestrogen regulates pathological changes of bones via bone lining cells

28.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>