Scientists Say New Material Can Suck Carbon Out of Atmosphere Faster Than Trees

Scientific Alchemy

A team of scientists in the United Kingdom say they've discovered a porous material that has the potential to store large quantities of greenhouse gases, making it a possible new tool in the arsenal to fight climate change.

The scientists detailed how they used computational models to develop this material in a newly published paper in the journal Nature Synthesis, arguing that certain features of the structure could make it excellent storage for carbon dioxide and sulphur hexafluoride, another powerful greenhouse gas.

"This is an exciting discovery because we need new porous materials to help solve society's biggest challenges," engineering professor Marc Little from Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University said in a statement about the research.

The new material, which acts like a cage made up of smaller molecules, is an organic supermolecule made from oxygen, nitrogen and fluorine.

"Planting trees is a very effective way to absorb carbon, but it’s very slow," said Little. "So we need a human intervention — like human-made molecules — to capture greenhouse gases efficiently from the environment more quickly."


Other materials that could potentially "sink" carbon are also in development.

One such material is a two-dimensional structure made from boron that has a large surface area and could potentially absorb lots of greenhouse gases from power plants.

Another material that scientists are exploring is concrete, which undergirds modern society but whose use — especially with cement — emits vasts quantities of carbon dioxide, estimated at eight percent of human-made emissions per year.

Researchers have been exploring how adding materials like baking soda to concrete could help the material absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

But the big hurdle is that many of these new materials are basically lab experiments. That's a challenge for anybody who wants to use material science to tackle climate change — how do you make the leap from lab to market?

Hopefully, scientists like Little can figure out scale next.

More on climate change: Too Much CO2 is Killing Trees, Scientists Say