0724 ctt upsalite dish

Researchers from Uppsala University’s Nanotechnology and Functional Materials Division, Sweden, have developed a novel magnesium carbonate material with world record breaking surface area and water adsorption properties, according to this news release.

Dubbed Upsalite, the ordinary-looking material in the photo above (credit: Disruptive Materials) should have multiple applications ranging from moisture control for electronics and pharmaceutical production to toxic waste cleanup, chemical or oil spill mitigation, and drug delivery systems. Its discovery was a happy accident, according to one of the researchers.

0724 upsalite micros

SEM (top two) and TEM images of Upsalite. The scale bar in the top image is 1µm; in the center image, which shows the textural porosity of the material, 200 nm. Bottom is a representative TEM image showing contrast consistent with a porous material. Scale bar, 50 nm. Credit: Disruptive Materials

“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 researcher Johan Goméz de la Torre in the release. “(One) Thursday afternoon in 2011, 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,” he explains.

The workers spent the next year characterizing their creation, discovering, among other things, that it has a surface area of 800 m2/g—the highest ever measured for an alkali earth metal carbonate, according to Maria Strømme, professor of nanotechnology and head of the Nanotechnology and Functional Materials Division.

“This places the new material in the exclusive class of porous, high surface area materials including mesoporous silica, zeolites, metalorganic frameworks, and carbon nanotubes”, says Strømme in the release.
“In addition, we found that the material was filled with empty pores, all having a diameter smaller than 10 nm. This pore structure gives the material a totally unique way of interacting with the environment leading to a number of properties important for application of the material.”

Upsalite is said to absorb more water at low relative humidities than hydroscopic zeolites, a property the researchers say requires a relatively small amolunt of energy to regenerate. The material will be commercialized though a spin-off company, Disruptive Materials, which is currently offering free samples. Full results of the research are reported in the article “A Template-Free, Ultra-Adsorbing, High Surface Area Carbonate Nanostructure” recently published in the journal PLOS One (DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0068486).