Innovation That Matters

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A hi-tech material for improved carbon capture


A UK company has developed novel materials for carbon capture and green energy applications using metal-organic frameworks

Spotted: Adsorption is a well-known phenomenon where molecules of a gas, liquid, or dissolved solid will adhere to solid surfaces. If the surface is right and the surface area sufficient, the effects of adsorption can be dramatic, with important implications for cleantech applications such as carbon capture.

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are polymers – substances made up of a large number of repeating units – that are formed when components self-assemble into a lattice structure, in which metal ions on each corner are connected by organic ‘linkers’. The language may be technical, but the important point is that MOFs have the largest surface area of any known material. This makes them super-adsorbent – a characteristic well-suited to a range of emerging climate technologies.

MOFs have been known to science for some time, but their usefulness has so far been limited by the fact that they are normally produced in powder form, which creates problems when attempting to integrate them into industrial processes. As a result, the powders are typically formed into pellets, but this process causes performance reductions that make it no longer worth using the material at all.

Now, however, startup Immaterial has developed a platform for creating patented monolithic metal-organic frameworks (m-MOFs) using an adapted MOF process. Rather than a powder, the m-MOFs are produced as much bigger chunks or ‘monoliths’ that are in the centimetre rather than micron scale. This leads to dramatic improvements in performance, unlocking the power of MOFs for multiple processes.

One of the characteristics of MOFs is that their structure is extremely modular, which means they can be tweaked and customised to selectively adsorb and release a specific gas in the smallest possible footprint. With its patented m-MOF technology, Immaterial can therefore produce the materials for a range of uses.

Immaterial’s initial focus is on applications that could have a big impact in the battle against climate change. First, its technology platform makes it possible to use MOFs to capture carbon from industrial sources. The company’s customisable materials can remove CO2 highly selectively, even in humid conditions – something that has proved a challenge for existing adsorption-based carbon capture systems. Second, using the same principles, Immaterial can use its m-MOFs in direct air capture (DAC) systems that pull CO2 from the ambient air. Finally, the m-MOFs can be used to purify hydrogen – an important clean fuel for the energy transition – and store it at milder temperatures and pressures than existing solutions. In addition to tackling climate change, the company’s materials could further be used for water purification and tackling indoor air pollution.

New materials are a vital part of the switch to a green economy. Springwise has spotted a number of exciting innovations in this space, including photocatalysts that can turn CO2 into chemicals and a bio-inspired, solar-powered leaf.

Written By: Lisa Magloff and Matthew Hempstead




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