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Novel Ceramic/Metallic Materials August 2018 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Rob Edmonds

Pollution-Absorbing MOFs

Why is this topic significant?

NO2 emissions from transportation and power stations are a significant problem in many populated areas. Scientists have developed a new metal-organic framework capable of absorbing NO2.

Description

An international team of scientists led by the University of Manchester in England has developed a metal-organic framework (MOF) capable of absorbing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) gas and other toxic gases—potentially from the atmosphere. MOFs form a class of porous-crystalline material that can act like sponges for gases.

Researchers claim that the new MOF material—MFM-300(Al)—is the first of its kind to perform selective, reversible, and repeatable removal of NO2 from the atmosphere. One of the lead authors of the paper about the work, Martin Schröder of Manchester University, says that other efforts to use porous materials for NO2 removal have struggled to create stable materials and that regenerating the gas has previously proved difficult or costly. The team demonstrated the capability to capture NO2 using neutron-scattering techniques at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Researchers relied on computer modeling and simulation techniques to interpret the neutron-scattering data. The team now aims to integrate its model with experimental data.

Some firms already offer products that they claim can help tackle NO2 pollution. Danish firm Airlabs manufactures various urban air-filtering devices that use nanocarbon filters to reduce NO2 and other pollutants in cities. In one trial, the company has air-cleaning units installed at bus stops in London, England. CityTrees from Germany-based Green City Solutions is an organic urban air-filtering device that uses mosses and plants. The company claims that each CityTree provides a level of air filtering similar to that of 275 natural trees within the footprint of just one tree. London; Berlin, Germany; Paris, France; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Oslo, Norway, have CityTrees.

Implications

Effective solutions to NO2 in polluted urban areas will likely see high demand—but creating such solutions is challenging. Even in highly polluted areas, NO2 levels exist in the atmosphere at only fairly low levels of concentration, which means that gas absorption from materials is typically slow, and huge quantities of the material would likely be necessary to have any meaningful impact. Whether the performance of the new MOF material can compete with that of existing pollution-reduction devices such as CityTree is unclear; however, the existence of such devices shows that a market exists even for products that have only a marginal impact at the city scale.

Impacts/Disruptions

Beyond having urban-cleanup applications, the new MOF material could serve applications in chemical processing, transportation, and power generation—close to sources of emissions (for example, in exhausts)—to help remove pollutants that exist in gas streams. Plausibly, the material could also feature in buildings (like concrete that absorbs carbon dioxide) and in air-purification devices. Whether this particular material succeeds beyond its current research phase, the research might also help inspire researchers to design other gas-separation, capture, storage, and conversion materials—using either MOFs or other options.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Transportation, energy, government, construction, infrastructure

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Enhancing Sensors with Perovskites

By Sean R. Barulich
Barulich is a senior research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Researchers are using perovskites to develop new sensors and augment the sensing capabilities of conventional sensors. Perovskites may enable accurate sensors that are significantly cheaper than conventional sensors and are more widely available.

Description

Perovskites have unique structural, magnetic, and transport properties that support applications in various research areas, including fuel cells, lasers, memory devices, and sensors. Although perovskites are prominently in use in photovoltaics, researchers are studying perovskites that may enhance conventional sensors' capabilities or enable the creation of new sensors.

For example, researchers from the University of Southern California collaborated with researchers from the University of Wisconsin, the US Air Force Research Laboratories, and the University of Missouri to develop a new chalgogenide perovskite that may enable improved infrared- (IR-) detection systems. The researchers studied barium titanium sulfide (BTS) and determined that the material exhibits IR birefringence and that its index of refraction changes depending on the polarization and propagation direction of the IR light. The researchers claim that BTS has the highest birefringence of any solid material and demonstrates low loss of low-frequency IR waves. The team claims that the material could serve to improve various sensor technologies, including IR cameras, chemical sensors, and temperature sensors.

Researchers are also using other perovskites to develop new detectors that may replace commercially available systems. For example, researchers at Northwestern University used cesium lead bromide perovskites to produce an accurate nuclear-radiation detector that detects gamma rays emitted from radioactive materials. The researchers tested the gamma-ray detector against a conventional cadmium zinc telluride (CZT) detector and discovered that the cesium lead bromide system could perform just as well as the CZT detector. In addition, the cesium lead bromide system could detect specific radioactive isotopes, including americium-241, cobalt-57, and cesium-137, which all have unique gamma-ray emissions. The researchers also produced larger samples of cesium lead bromide crystals to prove that production of the material can scale.

Implications

Perovskite-based sensing systems may be cheaper than conventional alternatives. Furthermore, devices may also provide improved accuracy and expand sensing capabilities. Although applications of perovskites in sensors are still in early development, some perovskites may enhance the performance of conventional sensors.

BTS may reduce the cost of various sensors and introduce next-generation devices with advanced sensing capabilities. In particular, BTS may enable advanced IR-based sensors for autonomous vehicles or robotics that operate in the mid-IR spectrum; these sensors would scatter less in atmosphere and can function in the dark. Cesium lead bromide has the potential to enable lower-cost nuclear-radiation detectors that can accurately detect specific signatures of radioactive materials. Although cesium lead bromide can enhance sensors for defense, the material may also have applications in other areas, including medical imaging, astronomy, and optics.

Impacts/Disruptions

Perovskites are receiving significant amounts of investment, research, and development for various applications, including solar cells, energy harvesting, and sensing. As researchers produce and use more perovskites in sensors and demonstrate improvements over conventional sensing systems, more companies may be interested in using the technology. In addition, as various industries continue exploring perovskites, research and development efforts will likely accelerate.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Sensors, military and defense, autonomous vehicles, robotics, optics

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: