Monday, September 24, 2012

Discovery Offers 'Green' Solution In Fight Against Greenhouse Gases

UK researchers have created a low cost, new material that can capture harmful gases, offering an exciting breakthrough in combating atmospheric pollution.

The porous material, dubbed NOTT-300, has the potential to reduce fossil fuel emissions through the cheaper and more efficient capture of polluting gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

The research, published in the scientific journal Nature Chemistry, demonstrates how the exciting properties of NOTT-300 could provide a greener alternative to existing solutions to adsorb CO2 which are expensive and use large amounts of energy.

 Picture of the crystal structure of NOTT-300. The blue parts are organic molecules and the grey parts are inorganic metal ions. By using alternative linking, scientists have produced this new hybrid solid material with novel functionality. 

Credit: The University of Nottingham.

The new material represents a major step towards addressing the challenges of developing the Low Carbon Economy, which seeks to produce energy using low carbon sources and methods.
Potential applications

Professor Martin Schröder, Dean of the Faculty of Science at The University of Nottingham, led the research in collaboration with ISIS, the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) world-leading neutron and muon source in Oxfordshire. He said: “Our novel material has potential application in carbon capture technologies to reduce CO2 emissions and therefore contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

The capture of CO2 has many potential applications, including:

• The reduction of CO2 and SO2 from flue gases in large industrial emitters, such as fossil fuelled power stations, and
• Gas purification, for example, natural gas is often isolated with 10% carbon dioxide impurity in it.

This needs to be removed before the natural gas can be used. NOTT-300 could act as a filter as the CO2 is readily captured by the material whilst the methane will just pass through without being adsorbed.

“The new material offers the opportunity for the development of an ‘easy on/easy off’ capture system that carries fewer economic and environmental penalties than existing technologies. It could also find application in gas separation processes where the removal of carbon dioxide or acidic gases such as sulphur dioxide is required.”

Dr Timmy Ramirez-Cuesta, senior scientist at the TOSCA instrument, ISIS describes this easy on/easy off capture mechanism as “similar to Velcro in that the material selectively captures the gases from the flue gas using weak interactions (the sticking) and holds them until they can be ‘peeled’ off at low pressure and stored.”

Dr Sihai Yang from Nottingham added: “The capture of sulphur dioxide is also very important for the environment as it can prevent the formation of acid rain which has a significant environmental impact.”

High uptake of CO2 and SO2

Professor Schröder said: “The material shows high uptake of CO2 and SO2. In the case of SO2, this is the highest reported for the class of materials to date. It is also selective for these gases, with other gases – such as hydrogen, methane, nitrogen, oxygen – showing no or very little adsorption into the pores.”

In addition to high uptake capacity and selectivity, it is also very easy to release the adsorbed gas molecules through simple reduction of pressure. The material has high chemical stability to all common organic solvents and is stable in water and up to temperatures of 400°C.

Dr Ramirez-Cuesta in describing the mechanism of NOTT-300 said: “One could envisage a system that consists of two large containers that contain this material. If you flow the exhaust gases from a power station through the first container, the material will selectively capture the carbon dioxide. When the material is saturated, the exhaust gases are diverted to the second container where the process continues. The full container is disconnected from the system and the CO2 is removed using a vacuum and collected. The regenerated container can then be reconnected and used repeatedly.”

Reduction of carbon footprint

Professor Schröder said: “It is widely accepted that it is imperative that the CO2 footprint of human activity is reduced in order to limit the negative effects of global climate change.

“There are powerful drivers to develop efficient strategies to remove CO2 using alternative materials that simultaneously have high adsorption capacity, high carbon dioxide selectivity and high rates of regeneration at an economically viable cost.”

And NOTT-300 delivers on each of these criteria. Because of this, the new discovery could signal a marked improvement in terms of environmental and chemical sustainability. 

The material is economically viable to produce because it is synthesised from relatively simple and cheap organic materials with water as the only solvent.

Professor Martin Schröder and Dr Sihai Yang led a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham in collaboration with colleagues from the STFC ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, Diamond Light Source, the University of Oxford and Peking University in China. 

Dr Ramirez-Cuesta who worked alongside the team at ISIS said: “The team used the ISIS facility to gain important structural and dynamic information about how the gases bind to the host material and to understand the material properties of the NOTT-300 that make it selectively adsorb CO2 and SO2.

“There is no doubt that this is potentially a very exciting material that has been supported by world class research and access to state-of-the-art facilities such as ISIS.”

The research was funded by the ERC Advanced Grant COORDSPACE and ChemEnSus, an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Programme Grant.

David Delpy, Chief Executive of The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which funded the research via a £4.1 million platform grant, said: “The potentially enormous environmental, scientific and economic impacts of this exciting work demonstrate the benefits to the UK of funding fundamental science, in this case at Nottingham and providing our researchers with access to world class facilities like ISIS."

Contacts and sources:
Corinne Mosese
STFC Polaris House, Swindon

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