Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are fast-tracking research into metal-organic frameworks, a recently discovered group of materials with unique structural properties. The crystals pack a huge amount of surface area into a very small space — stretched out, a sample the size of a sugar cube could cover an American football field — which gives them the potential to act as “sponges” for a variety of different molecules.
A research team led by Berkeley Lab chemist Jeffrey Long aims to use robots to automate the process for creating different types of metal-organic frameworks in hopes of discovering one that can efficiently and cost-effectively soak up carbon dioxide. The team’s goal is to develop the right material in just three years, if the lab is successful in its quest to win a $3.6 million grant from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
Long says he hopes to find a material that can absorb carbon dioxide without decreasing a power plant’s energy output too much. Current carbon capture strategies reduce output by around 30 per cent. The Berkeley Lab team’s goal is to bring that down to 10 per cent.