Science

Oxygen absorbing material may allow us to breathe underwater

Just a few grains of the newly synthesized material could allow us to stay underwater without scuba tanks ... or yoga (Photo: Shutterstock)
Just a few grains of the newly synthesized material could allow us to stay underwater without scuba tanks ... or yoga (Photo: Shutterstock)
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The crystalline material changes color when absorbing or releasing oxygen: black when saturated, pink when oxygen released (Photo: University of Denmark)
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The crystalline material changes color when absorbing or releasing oxygen: black when saturated, pink when oxygen released (Photo: University of Denmark)
Just a few grains of the newly synthesized material could allow us to stay underwater without scuba tanks ... or yoga (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Just a few grains of the newly synthesized material could allow us to stay underwater without scuba tanks ... or yoga (Photo: Shutterstock)
The crystalline material changes color when absorbing or releasing oxygen: black when saturated, pink when oxygen released (Photo: University of Denmark)
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The crystalline material changes color when absorbing or releasing oxygen: black when saturated, pink when oxygen released (Photo: University of Denmark)
Just a few grains of the newly synthesized material could allow us to stay underwater without scuba tanks ... or yoga (Photo: Shutterstock)
4/4
Just a few grains of the newly synthesized material could allow us to stay underwater without scuba tanks ... or yoga (Photo: Shutterstock)

Using specially synthesized crystalline materials, scientists from the University of Southern Denmark have created a substance that is able to absorb and store oxygen in such high concentrations that just one bucketful is enough to remove all of the oxygen in a room. The substance is also able to release the stored oxygen in a controlled manner when it is needed, so just a few grains could replace the need for divers to carry bulky scuba tanks.

The key component of the new material is the element cobalt, which is bound in a specially designed organic molecule. In standard form – and depending on the available oxygen content, the ambient temperature, and the barometric pressure – the absorption of oxygen by the material from its surroundings may take anything from seconds to days.

"An important aspect of this new material is that it does not react irreversibly with oxygen – even though it absorbs oxygen in a so-called selective chemisorptive process," said Professor Christine McKenzie from the University of Southern Denmark. "The material is both a sensor, and a container for oxygen – we can use it to bind, store, and transport oxygen – like a solid artificial hemoglobin."

The crystalline material changes color when absorbing or releasing oxygen: black when saturated, pink when oxygen released (Photo: University of Denmark)
The crystalline material changes color when absorbing or releasing oxygen: black when saturated, pink when oxygen released (Photo: University of Denmark)

Varying the constituent structure of the material can also bind and release oxygen at different rates. This means it could be used to regulate oxygen supply in fuel cells or create devices like face masks that use layers of the material to provide pure oxygen to a person directly from the air, without the need of other equipment.

Even more interestingly, the material may also be configured in a device that could absorb oxygen directly from water and allow a diver to stay submerged for long periods of time, without the need for bulky air tanks.

"This could be valuable for lung patients who today must carry heavy oxygen tanks with them," explains Professor McKenzie. "But also divers may one day be able to leave the oxygen tanks at home and instead get oxygen from this material as it 'filters' and concentrates oxygen from surrounding air or water. A few grains contain enough oxygen for one breath, and as the material can absorb oxygen from the water around the diver and supply the diver with it, the diver will not need to bring more than these few grains."

Using x-ray diffraction techniques to peer inside the atomic arrangement of the material when it had been filled with oxygen, the scientists realized that once the oxygen has been absorbed it can be stored in the material until it is released by heating the material gently or subjecting it to a vacuum.

"We see release of oxygen when we heat up the material, and we have also seen it when we apply vacuum," said Professor McKenzie. "We are now wondering if light can also be used as a trigger for the material to release oxygen – this has prospects in the growing field of artificial photosynthesis."

There's no word as yet on any possible commercial production or public availability of the material.

The research was published in the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Chemical Science.

Source: University of Southern Denmark.

46 comments
Kendall Miller
Bulky tanks aren't only needed for air, they are needed for pressure. Human diaphragms are not strong enough to pull air into a lung against the pressure of the surrounding water at depth. Scuba regulators blow air into the lungs at a pressure that is just a tiny bit above the water pressure. Furthermore, oxygen itself can be toxic if it is breathed at high pressure. Divers breathe a mixture of gases such as air which is mostly nitrogen with a smaller fraction of oxygen or a helium-oxygen mixture.
zevulon
this article is fundamentally vague and as such misleading. adsorptive materials are use for filtering gasses from gasses and must remain under pressure. the allusion/implication that this material can filter dissolved oxygen from salt water, let alone fresh water into an adsorptive material which can then release the o2 as a gas, seems purposefully vague as to make this article click bait [garbage]. most likely this 'discovery' is simply another high adsorbtive material. which might have the potential to condense the volume of air into a smaller tank, without much changing the overal weight.
MikeFromHC
Breathing pure O2 at a depth beyond about 30 feet leads inevitably to blackouts, convulsions, and without a bit of luck, death. The "bucket" would need a tank of an inert gas to maintain a proper partial pressure. And that would lead to a rebreather as most of the requirements would have been met.
The Creator
Another sci-fi device that will become a reality. Just like in some sci-fi movies where they pull out the little "breather" device no bigger than a co2 cartridge that they hold directly with there mouth and never runs out of air.
Slowburn
How heavy is it per oxygen contained compared to say a 20 Cubic Ft. Oxygen Cylinder? Does it efficiently strip oxygen from hydrogen?
Gabriel Pérez Aguiar
this is both an awesome improvement and a weapon.
PrometheusGoneWild.com
Seems like there could be unique applications for this in space flight. Storage of oxogen without using pressure and its assosiated weight (the container) or safety issues. Call NASA. They have money to burn.
EddieG
Every year we see amazing inventions such as this, and they are never seen again.
Bob
Sounds interesting but pure oxygen is poison at depths below 33 feet. There is also the problem of re-breathing the exhaled CO2 which would have to be scrubbed out. What gas will be the filler? Nitrogen to 100 feet and helium for deeper dives? This is a lot more complex than it looks at first glance. Due to the controls and regulation that will be required, it probably won't be nearly as portable as it sounds. For people that need oxygen for medical purposes, oxygen concentrators have become a lot more portable but they make noise and require a power source. If this material releases the oxygen using a little heat or vacuum, there may be a lot of options possible. Recharging the system also brings up more questions. Will it recharge itself by simply opening up the container and absorbing oxygen from the atmosphere or will it require special equipment?
Leonard Foster Jr
Space Travel ??