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New material developed capable of capturing toxic air pollutants

A team at the University of Limerick, Ireland, has developed a sponge-like material that can remove trace levels of benzene from the atmosphere. 

While the race to decarbonise and lower emissions is rapidly gathering pace, the need for innovations that can aid with sequestration has never been greater. 

Now researchers at the Ireland’s University of Limerick believe they have created a system for removing benzene from the atmosphere. The team have developed a sponge-like material that can capture the compound and store it, while using less energy in the process than pre-existing solutions. It is believed this could contribute to the battle against climate change and the aim of cleaning up the world’s air. 

Benzene is classed as a volatile organic compound, a highly toxic pollutant which is linked to severe environmental and health problems, and this is the first time technology has been able to remove trace levels without a device with a significant energy requirement. The new material has an affinity for benzene that can capture traces as low as 1 part in 100,000, and resembles a block of Swiss cheese. Its physical bonding process has a much lower footprint than chemical alternatives. 

‘A family of porous materials – like sponge – have been developed to capture benzene vapour from polluted air and produce a clean air stream for a long working time,’ explained Professor Michael Zaworotko, Bernal Chair of Crystal Engineering and Science Foundation of Ireland Research Professor at University of Limerick’s Bernal Institute. ‘These materials could be regenerated easily under mild heating, making them candidates for air purification and environmental remediation. Our materials can do much better in both sensitivity and working time than traditional materials.’

‘Based on smart design, our materials do well in addressing challenges of both technical and social relevance, such as trace benzene removal from air. This is hard for conventional materials, and thus highlights the charm of porous materials,’ added Dr Xiang-Jing Kong from the Department of Chemical Sciences at the University of Limerick. ‘Aromatic isomers are difficult to separate in their mixtures with traditional methods, which are always energy-intensive.’

In March, Air Quality News published a feature looking at nature-based solutions to air pollution, including sequestration.

Image credit: UL/Bernal

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