What if we could make a “sponge” that would soak up carbon dioxide – kind of like the way a sponge can soak up a spilled cup of coffee on your kitchen counter?
Well, we’re about to find out.
Inside that balloon — is carbon dioxide.
Inside that glass beaker — is the “sponge.”
The balloon is collapsing — because that sponge is absorbing all the carbon dioxide inside the balloon.
And in this case, the idea is as cool as it looks:
Done big — that sponge could be used to absorb CO2 out of a factory vessel, before it ever gets into the air. Done smaller — you could put this sponge on a spaceship or submarine to keep the air breathable (more oxygen, less carbon dioxide) in those confined spaces. In fact, you could even, if you carried around a little jar of the stuff, absorb the carbon dioxide (which we all breathe out) from of your own breath. Not that there’s a big demand for that. At least yet.
Technically, this process is called “adsorption” — which is when a gas (like carbon dioxide) sticks to the surface of something else (like the “metal-organic framework”, aka sponge, inside that beaker).
Originally developed by scientists at the University of California Berkeley — now being brought into the world by Mosaic Materials, with help from ExxonMobil. That means an idea we can see is brilliant in the lab — will get a full chance to show its stuff.
This “metal-organic framework idea” is some really high-tech chemistry, by the way. Scientists take organic molecules, and attach them to metal atoms, to form a very complex matrix that has the largest surface area of any known substance. That means lots of places for CO2 molecules to attach themselves.
And those organic molecules? They begin with petrochemicals like ethylene, propylene, benzene and toluene. The rest, we’ll leave to the chemists.
But no matter how brilliant, no one idea is going to be a single solution to global warming. That’s ok though. Just as we are going to need multiple sources of fuel and energy to get us into the future — we’re going to need multiple approaches to keeping our planet livable into that future: like planting trees and recycling plastic. Like cleaner gasoline and cleaner manufacturing.
And now, maybe also Doing the Sponge. Yeah, SpongeBob SquarePants knows what’s up.