A wonder material that could store carbon dioxide and let oxygen flow freely will be helpful in eliminating greenhouse gasses. This material had been shelved for decades until, thankfully, one scientist dug up some information about it and realized the mineral’s potential.
A Shelved Discovery
Every discovery is important even though at first it is not what we expected. We might miss something valuable just because we have no clue about its importance. That happened to two minerals found in a mine in Siberia 70 years ago.
The minerals, stepanovite and zhemchuzhnikovite, were unearthed by the Russian geologist Pavel Ivanovich Stepanov and Yurii Apollonovich Zhemchezhnikov respectively. They were discovered 230 meters underground below the melting permafrost, a kind of soil that is frozen for more than two succeeding years.
Because scientists at the time did not have the technology to analyze the minerals, the discoveries were shelved for decades. As their existence seemed forgotten, one scientist took interest on the material, studied it further, and found out that they are actually really valuable.
Wonder Material’s Greenhouse Gasses Elimination Potential
In 2010, an associate professor at the McGill University named Tomislav Friščić found out that the minerals’ structural description is same to that of substances grouped under metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). To prove his inkling, he replicated the substances and compared it with the minerals’ structure. Remarkably, the two matched.
Metal-organic frameworks are compounds which consist of metal ions. These are considered promising for various applications like gas purification, gas separation, and gas storage.
The wonder material is similar to a molecular sponge that can absorb gasses such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen. They can also lock carbon dioxide away for hundreds of years while the oxygen can be kept to flow freely that would be an alternative solution for global warming.
When used as methane storage of the porous crystalline material, it is found that MOFs, despite their smaller size, can carry more fuel than the traditional pressure vessel. A record-breaking 2,300 square meters of gasses per gram was carried by MOFs, particularly the MOF-5, under the development of Berkeley chemist Omar Yaghi in 1999.
What makes the MOFs discovery even more exceptional is the proof that these materials can be found in nature. Previously, they were only produced inside laboratories as artificial “design solids” since the 1980s.
Meanwhile, some challenges faced by the wonder material are its feebleness as it collapses as soon as guest molecules are taken out. However, advancements are made to counteract this main handicap of the MOFs so we could make use of it commercially soon.