Chemical engineers at MIT has designed a polymer material that can react with carbon dioxide from the air, to grow, strengthen, and even repair itself.
The researchers claimed that the material could one day be used as construction or repair material or for protective coatings, as it continuously converts the greenhouse gas into a carbon-based material that reinforces itself.
The current version of the material has been developed as a synthetic gel-like substance that performs a chemical process similar to the way plants incorporate carbon dioxide from the air into their growing tissues.
Imagine a synthetic material that could grow like trees, taking the carbon from the carbon dioxide and incorporating it into the material's backbone
"The material might, for example, be made into panels of a lightweight matrix that could be shipped to a construction site, where they would harden and solidify just from exposure to air and sunlight, thereby saving on the energy and cost of transportation," MIT claimed in a news release.
The findings are reported in the journal Advanced Materials, by Professor Michael Strano, Dr Seon-Yeong Kwak, and eight others at MIT and at the University of California at Riverside.
"This is a completely new concept in materials science," said Strano, the Carbon C. Dubbs professor of chemical engineering, adding that materials which can transform carbon dioxide in the ambient air into a solid - what we call carbon-fixing materials - "don't exist yet today" outside of the biological realm.
The scientists believe that developing a synthetic material that not only avoids the use of fossil fuels for its creation, but actually consumes carbon dioxide from the air, has huge benefits for the environment and climate.
The team has worked out methods to produce materials of this type by the ton
"Imagine a synthetic material that could grow like trees, taking the carbon from the carbon dioxide and incorporating it into the material's backbone," Strano added.
The material starts out as a liquid, and starts to grow and cluster into a solid form.
The material the researchers used is a gel matrix composed of a polymer made from aminopropyl methacrylamide (APMA) and glucose, an enzyme called glucose oxidase, and the chloroplasts, and it becomes stronger as it incorporates the carbon.However, it is not yet strong enough to be used as a building material, though it might function as a crack filling or coating material, the MIT researchers said.
The team has worked out methods to produce materials of this type by the ton, and is now focusing on optimising the material's properties.
Commercial applications, such as self-healing coatings and crack fillings, are possible in the near term, they claim, whereas additional advances in backbone chemistry and materials science are needed before construction materials and composites can be developed.
"Materials science has never produced anything like this," added Strano. "These materials mimic some aspects of something living, even though it's not reproducing."
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