Can toxic gases be captured from the atmosphere?

Can toxic gases be captured from the atmosphere?
The discovery made by the researchers could lead to air filtration technologies that capture and convert large quantities of gases, reducing global warming.

An international team of researchers have developed a material that can remove nitrogen dioxide gas and other toxic gases from the atmosphere, with the aim of reducing pollution and global warming.

The discovery made by the researchers could lead to air filtration technologies that capture and convert large quantities of toxic gases, reducing global warming. The research was led by the University of Manchester, UK.

According to the university, the material, known as MFM-300(AI), is a metal-organic framework (MOF) – a class of porous crystalline materials that can act as sponges to trap gases in order to purify and separate them.

The MOF developed by the team is the first of its kind to exhibit selective, fully reversable and repeatable capability to remove nitrogen dioxide from the atmosphere, meaning that the material can remove and store the toxic gas molecules repeatedly.

Capturing greenhouse gases

Challenges facing capturing greenhouse gases include:

  • Their relatively low concentrations in the atmosphere; and
  • Managing to find a practical way release a captured gas.

MOFs, however, offer solutions to these challenges.

Dr Sihai Yang, one of the study’s lead authors and a lecturer in inorganic chemistry at the university’s school of chemistry, said: “Despite the highly reactive nature of nitrogen dioxide, our material proved extremely robust.

“It is the first example of a metal-organic framework that exhibits a highly selective and fully reversible capability for repeated separation of nitrogen dioxide from the air, even in presence of water.”

What did the research involve?

Part of the research included scientists using neutron scattering techniques to confirm how the material captures the nitrogen dioxide molecules, allowing it to remove them from the atmosphere.

Timmy Ramirez-Cuesta, a co-author from the USAs’ Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Neutron Sciences Directorate, added: “Neutrons can easily penetrate dense material and they are sensitive to lighter elements, such as the hydrogen atoms inside the MOF, which enabled us to observe how the nitrogen dioxide molecules bind to the porous sponge which contains nano-sized pores.”

The paper has been published in Nature Materials.

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