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USF researchers develop new green technology

Making advances that have the possibility to change the world is something research students only dream of, but a research team at USF led by Mike Zaworotko has developed a new, organic material that could revolutionize carbon capture technology.

Carbon capture technology has been catching on in recent years by creating a process by which carbon dioxide emitted and other greenhouse gases from large fossil fuel consumers can be funneled to a storage site, where it is less harmful to the environment.

Though previously the materials used for carbon capture were not highly effective as they were porous and collected of water, the new material allows for carbon capture to be more effective.

The production of the material occurred mainly at USF and went through intensive studying by a team of students and professors at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. The teams recently published their findings in Nature, an international weekly science journal.

Two years ago, then undergraduate Stephen Burd, along with graduate student Jason Perman, began working with Zaworotko to look at new compounds useful in capturing and bonding carbon atoms.

“We didn’t arrive to the new material overnight,” Burd said. “It was about a two-year process of experimenting with different materials and combinations of compounds.”

The previous materials presented an obstacle for the technology’s practical application because the water logging made the system less effective.

“You can think of the porous material almost like a sponge. If you design a sponge to suck up a certain chemical, but it also continues to take in water, then you have a problem,” Zoworotko said. “In short, we have been able to enhance carbon dioxide interactions at the same time we have reduced interactions with water.”

The real world application for this new material still remains to be seen.

“We’ve done all we can on the research side, but I am working with milligrams of this material in the lab. Producers would need literally tons of this stuff in order to use it industrially,” Zoworotko said.

However, tests in the lab have demonstrated the material may also be useful in the separation and purification of methane. Use of methane as an alternative fuel source has been a recent area of interest for researchers in green technology.

“As far as the chemistry and research is concerned, we’ve basically solved the problem,” Burd said. “Everything else comes down to whether companies will want to use carbon capture technology in their work.”

Burd said the team will continue to look at carbon capture for the near future, but plans to do more research into methane purification and storage.