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New adsorbent found by mistake

SWEDEN: A novel highly adsorbent material, which could have uses within the air conditioning and refrigeration industry, has been produced by accident at a Swedish university.

The magnesium carbonate material is said to have an adsorption capacity around 50% greater at low relative humidities than the best adsorbents currently available. It also has the ability to retain more than 75% of the adsorbed water when the humidity is decreased from 95% to 5% at room temperature and can be regenerated at temperatures below 100ºC.

While ordered forms of magnesium carbonate, both with and without water in the structure, are abundant in nature, water-free disordered forms have previously proven impossible to make. That was until researchers from Uppsala University stumbled upon the synthesis process by mistake in 2011.

Called Upsalite, the new material is expected to reduce the amount of energy needed to control environmental moisture in the electronics and drug formulation industry as well as in hockey rinks and warehouses. As well as an efficient desiccant for thermal wheels, it might also have uses in adsorption cooling technology.

“In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process”, says Johan Goméz de la Torre, researcher at the University’s nanotechnology and functional materials division.

But the material was found by mistake.

“We slightly changed the synthesis parameters of the earlier employed unsuccessful attempts, and by mistake left the material in the reaction chamber over the weekend. Back at work on Monday morning we discovered that a rigid gel had formed and after drying this gel we started to get excited”, says Johan Goméz de la Torre.
A year of detailed materials analysis and fine tuning of the experiment followed in which Upsalite was found to absorb more water at low relative humidities than hydroscopic zeolites – the best materials presently available – and can be regenerated with less energy consumption than is used in similar processes today.

“This, together with other unique properties of the discovered impossible material is expected to pave the way for new sustainable products in a number of industrial applications”, says Maria Strømme.

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