Carbon capture stands to reduce the impacts of climate change caused by industrial pollution — but the methods currently available for capturing carbon are expensive, complicated and too burdensome to be widely implemented. It turns out that an answer to this problem could be a family of complex crystals called metal-organic frameworks. Metal-organic frameworks are incredibly porous and have the highest internal surface area of any substance known to man — and it just so happens that they can be formulated for the sole purpose of capturing carbon.
“We think we can modify the surface so it will cause just the carbon dioxide to stick,” said Dr. Jeffrey Long, a chemist who is studying the crystals at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “It would be a sort of carbon-dioxide selective sponge,” he added. Metal-organic frameworks visually resemble table salt, and the there is little mechanical technology behind how they work — they just absorb. They are incredibly lightweight and effective; a single gram when unfolded and flattened could blanket a football field.
However the best thing about them is that they could be reused again and again. For instance, in a power plant setting, emissions would flow through the crystals until they’ve reached their saturation level. The carbon would then be “squeezed out” of the crystals and the crystals could be returned to use. You could place the carbon in an underground chamber, where it wouldn’t harm the atmosphere, and repeat the cycle again and again. The materials needed to make metal-organic frameworks are relatively inexpensive, and researchers are currently trying to uncover the best crystal structure for carbon capture. It will take a few years for the technology to be industry-ready, but the science is solid and once finalized it could be easily implemented and remarkably cost-efficient.