Scientists find ‘exciting’ material which can absorb carbon faster than trees

The material could store carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (Picture: Getty Images)

A new scientific discovery could help to turn the tides in the war against greenhouse gases.

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have created new molecules which, thanks to their hollow and cage-like structure, can store greenhouse gases.

The new material has been hailed ‘exciting’ and could remove carbon dioxide and other polluting gases from the atmosphere faster than planting trees.

The research, published in the journal Nature Synthesis, found the new discovery can also store sulphur hexafluoride, a more potent greenhouse gas which can last in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

Dr Marc Little, who jointly led the research, said: ‘This is an exciting discovery because we need new porous materials to help solve society’s biggest challenges.

‘For example, direct air capture of carbon dioxide is increasingly important because even when we stop emitting carbon dioxide, there’s still going to be a huge need to capture previous emissions that are already in the environment.

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh led the research (Picture: Getty Images)
The new molecules are like a ‘cage’ which can store greenhouse gases

‘Planting trees is a very effective way to absorb carbon, but it’s very slow.

‘So we need a human intervention – like human-made molecules – to capture greenhouse gases efficiently from the environment more quickly.’

Researchers used AI to predict how molecules would assemble themselves into the new material, and Dr Little says the study is an ‘important step’ to developing other materials which could remove toxic compounds from the air and potentially play an important role in medical science.

He added: ‘Combining computational studies like ours with new AI technologies could create an unprecedented supply of new materials to solve the most pressing societal challenges, and this study is an important step in this direction.

The new material could absorb greenhouse gases faster than trees (Picture: Getty Images)

‘If you’re able to use AI tools to predict those quicker and more accurately then we can really accelerate the rate at which we can discover these new types of porous materials without actually having to make any of them in the lab beforehand.

‘We see this study as an important step towards unlocking such applications in the future.’

The study also involved researchers from the University of Liverpool, Imperial College London, the University of Southampton, and East China University of Science and Technology.

The project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust.

It was also supported by the research facility Diamond Light Source, the University of Southampton, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research programme and the Royal Society.

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