Scientists in Ireland and the UK are making moves to combat the devastating effects of greenhouse gases and climate change — and they're using a liquid perforated with holes to do it.
In a paper published by the science journal Nature earlier this November, researchers in the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen's University Belfast and the University of Liverpool detailed their findings in their effort to develop a method of "carbon capture," which sounds like exactly what it is: capturing carbon dioxide emitted from considerable sources, like power plants or the resulting after-effects of other burned fossil fuels that end up trapped in our atmosphere (human-induced actions, like deforestation, have not helped in these matters, to say the least).
So, what exactly does this hole-y liquid (or, for those who are more pun-inclined, hole-y water) do, and why is it useful for carbon capturing? As Professor Stuart James, one of the co-authors of the paper, explained it, the imperatives of the porous liquid are to soak up unwanted, carbon-based molecular materials:
"Materials which contain permanent holes, or pores, are technologically important. They are used for manufacturing a range of products from plastic bottles to petrol. However, until recently, these porous materials have been solids. What we have done is to design a special liquid from the 'bottom up' — we designed the shapes of the molecules which make up the liquid so that the liquid could not fill up all the space. Because of the empty holes we then had in the liquid, we found that it was able to dissolve unusually large amounts of gas."
To create the sponge-like liquid, James and company constructed molecules from scratch, using hydrogen, oxygen and carbon itself to create molecular structures reminiscent of cages, which were then combined with a solvent that subsequently dissolved them. The new admixture — the liquid carbon capturer — became porous, due to the fact that the solvent's molecules could not fit into the "bars" of Stuart's engineered molecules.
While the actuality of the liquid is a huge step forward in making carbon capturing a climate change-resisting aid, more research and testing needs to be conducted to implement it as a bonafide carbon soaker, especially since it hasn't been been tested yet. With any luck, the perforated model can serve as a blueprint for other capturers that could be developed in the future — as an agent for methane capture, for instance — which will act as an initial conduit for possibly reversing the damage we've done to the planet.
Photo: Masakazu Matsumota | Flickr