Carbon capture is one of the many solutions proposed to curb emissions of CO2. But, so far, methods being used require a great deal of energy to release the captured carbon from the capture material for storage. Now researchers at the University of South Florida (USF), in a partnership with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), have announced what they claim is a more energy-efficient alternative in the shape of a cheaper, more efficient and reusable material for CO2 capture and separation.

At the center of the discovery is a crystal called SIFSIX-1-Cu, whose atoms form a three-dimensional lattice with holes that can trap CO2 but allow other molecules to pass through. The porous SIFSIX materials are built with a mix of inorganic and organic chemical building blocks from a class of materials known as Metal-Organic Materials (MOMs).

One of the characteristics of the metal organic framework material that boosts its chances of real-world application is its unique effectiveness in the presence of water vapor. This offers advantages over other methods, where water vapor normally interferes with CO2 capture and contributes to the cleaning process in clean-coal plants consuming around 20 to 30 percent of the plants' power output. The researchers say the new material has the potential to improve the efficiency of the cleaning process and allow more power to be put into the grid.

“I hate to use the word ‘unprecedented’ but we have something unprecedented,” said USF Chemistry Professor Mike Zaworotko. “We sort of hit a sweet spot in terms of properties.”

To confirm their findings, the researchers carried out simulations on supercomputers at several research centers, including the National Science Foundation’s XSEDE network, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, Texas Advanced Computing Center and San Diego Supercomputer Center. These included tests on Blacklight, a large shared memory computer, to simulate the behavior of small numbers of gas molecules with each other and with the MOM material.

Besides capturing carbon in coal-fueled plants, the researchers envisage other applications for the material, including purification of methane in natural gas wells and the advancement of clean coal technology.

The scientists will next work on a manufacturing solution and real-world applications. Details of the research appeared in the journal Nature.

The video animation below illustrates how the carbon atoms stick to the metal organic framework material.