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“Botox for Plastic” Prevents Polymer Ageing

A new material that prevents plastic from ageing offers huge environmental and cost savings for the energy industry by cleaning up exhaust gases from power plants more effectively than existing methods.

The techniques industry currently use to separate out raw materials such as gases, liquids and solids are extremely energy-intensive, accounting for 40% of the world’s energy use each year. But Dr Sam Lau of CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering, who is lead author of research published in Angewandte Chemie, says the new “botox” technique can make the separation process 50 times faster.

“At the moment power generators rely on plastic linings made up of tiny holes just 1 nm wide,” he said. “For decades scientists have been trying to improve the efficiency of this process by using plastics with larger holes. However, these larger openings tend to age very quickly and collapse within a matter of days.

“What we’ve done is make use of incredible compact materials known as Metallic Organic Frameworks – or MOFs – which have the surface area of a football field in just 1 gram. We found that the density of the MOFs acts like a shot of botox and actually freezes the larger holey structures in place for an entire year.”

This suddenly makes the lining with larger holes a viable option for industry, allowing them to complete separation processes at 50 times the speed.

Not only does the technique have incredible potential for cleaning up exhaust gases from power plants, but Lau says it could also be used to enhance the purity of natural gas streams, the separation of water from alcohols during biofuel synthesis, and for dye removal in the textile industry.

“We’re extremely excited by this discovery and hope to see it being applied commercially within 1–2 years,” he said.