A new porous liquid which can dissolve large amounts of gas has been developed by scientists in Belfast.
Hailed as a major breakthrough, the development could help factories and power plants cut the amount of harmful emissions being released into the atmosphere.
Professor Stuart James from Queen’s University school of chemistry and chemical engineering said: “Materials which contain permanent holes, or pores, are technologically important. They are used for manufacturing a range of products from plastic bottles to petrol. However, until recently, these porous materials have been solids.
“What we have done is to design a special liquid from the bottom-up - we designed the shapes of the molecules which make up the liquid so that the liquid could not fill up all the space.
“Because of the empty holes we then had in the liquid, we found that it was able to dissolve unusually large amounts of gas.”
The new porous liquid was developed as part of a three-year research project involving scientists from Queen’s, the University of Liverpool and universities in France, Germany and Argentina.
It could pave the way for many more efficient and greener chemical processes, including ultimately the procedure known as carbon capture - trapping carbon dioxide from sources such as a fossil fuel power plant and storing it to stop its entry into the atmosphere.
Professor James said more work had to be done. He added: “These first experiments are what is needed to understand this new type of material, and the results point to interesting long-term applications which rely on dissolution of gases.
“A few more years’ research will be needed, but if we can find applications for these porous liquids they could result in new or improved chemical processes.
“At the very least, we have managed to demonstrate a very new principle - that by creating holes in liquids we can dramatically increase the amount of gas they can dissolve.
“These remarkable properties suggest interesting applications in the long term.”
The study was mainly funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Engineering Physical Science Research Council.
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson welcomed the development
He said: “As a One Nation government, we’re investing in world-class science across the UK, and this latest discovery reflects the strength of research partnerships based at Belfast and Liverpool.
“While these are early findings, this research could pave the way for greener energy production in the future.”