May 302010
 

(Credit: Image courtesy of DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

Jeffrey Long’s lab will soon host a round-the-clock, robotically choreographed hunt for carbon-hungry materials.

The Berkeley Lab chemist leads a diverse team of scientists whose goal is to quickly discover materials that can efficiently strip carbon dioxide from a power plant’s exhaust, before it leaves the smokestack and contributes to climate change.

They’re betting on a recently discovered class of materials called metal-organic frameworks that boast a record-shattering internal surface area. A sugar cube-sized piece, if unfolded and flattened, would more than blanket a football field. The crystalline material can also be tweaked to absorb specific molecules.

The idea is to engineer this incredibly porous compound into a voracious sponge that gobbles up carbon dioxide.

And they’re going for speed. The scientists hope to discover this dream material in a breakneck three years, maybe sooner. To do this, they’ll create an automated system that simultaneously synthesizes hundreds of metal-organic frameworks, then screens the most promising candidates for further refinement.

“Our discovery process will be up to 100 times faster than current techniques,” says Long. “We need to quickly find next-generation materials that capture and release carbon without requiring a lot of energy.”

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