Scientists Acclaim New Material That Can Store Greenhouse Gases

Scientists have hailed the “exciting” discovery of a type of porous material that can store carbon dioxide.

The research, published in the journal Nature Synthesis, saw a team led by scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh create hollow, cage-like molecules with high storage capacities for greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and sulphur hexafluoride.

Sulphur hexafluoride is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and can last thousands of years in the atmosphere.

As well as scientists at Heriot-Watt, the study involved researchers from the University of Liverpool, Imperial College London, the University of Southampton, and East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai.

Dr Marc Little, who jointly led the research, said: “This is an exciting discovery because we need new porous materials to help solve society’s biggest challenges.”

“For example, direct air capture of carbon dioxide is increasingly important because even when we stop emitting carbon dioxide, there’s still going to be a huge need to capture previous emissions that are already in the environment.”

“Planting trees is a very effective way to absorb carbon, but it’s very slow. So we need a human intervention – like human-made molecules – to capture greenhouse gases efficiently from the environment more quickly.”

“Combining computational studies like ours with new AI technologies could create an unprecedented supply of new materials to solve the most pressing societal challenges.”

The researchers used computer simulations to accurately predict how molecules would assemble themselves into the new porous material, a method which Dr Little said could be further enhanced in future through the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

He added: “Combining computational studies like ours with new AI technologies could create an unprecedented supply of new materials to solve the most pressing societal challenges, and this study is an important step in this direction.

“If you’re able to use AI tools to predict those quicker and more accurately then we can really accelerate the rate at which we can discover these new types of porous materials without actually having to make any of them in the lab beforehand.”

Dr Little described the study as an “important step” to developing other materials, and added that molecules with complex structures could also be used to remove toxic compounds known as volatile organic compounds from the air and could play an important role in medical science.