A new method for creating super-absorbent, sponge-like crystals could finally make the local manufacture of these viable, according to the CSIRO.
The crystals, called metal organic frameworks (MOFs), are incredibly absorbent, with an internal storage capacity of roughly 7,000 square metres per one gram.
They are useful in cleaning contaminants from industrial waste and soil, but have been too expensive to create.
Creating MOFs had previously been prohibitively expensive, due to a large amount of energy required in heating and cooling during manufacture. According to a statement from CSIRO, this process can manufacture the material at room temperature, at 30 per cent of the cost, and in a period of 15 minutes rather than two days.
“We’ve estimated that this process could cut the cost to make MOFs by thousands of dollars for Australian manufacturers,” material engineer Dr Paolo Falcoro, Senior Research Scientist and Group Leader at the CSIRO, said in a statement.
Falcoro is a co-author of the paper detailing the process, “ZnO as an Efficient Nucleating Agent for Rapid, Room Temperature Synthesis and Patterning of Zn-Based Metal–Organic Frameworks”, published as a cover story in the journal Chemistry of Materials.
The other nine co-authors of the paper were from the University of Padova (Italy), the CSIRO Manufacturing Flagship, and The University of Adelaide.
Though the process outlined involved zinc oxide, Dr Falcoro believes it could be applied to a range of different MOFs.
“We’re now seeking to work with Australian chemical manufacturers to further develop the method and explore turning the crystals into a sustainable industrial waste management product,” said Dr Falcoro.