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UCLA Scientists Create Carbon-Capturing Crystals That Mimic DNA

UCLA scientists have created DNA-like crystals that capture carbon dioxideIn the burgeoning world of carbon capture technology, all sorts of interesting things are popping up.  Here’s one from UCLA graduate student Hexian Deng and biochemistry professor Omar M. Yaghi, who have developed synthetic crystals that can be used to trap carbon dioxide.


Carbon capture is often conflated with so called clean coal technology for power plants, but UCLA’s “designer crystal” approach opens the door for more low cost, scalable applications, such as trapping carbon dioxide from factories or vehicle exhaust pipes.

DNA-Like Crystals that Focus on Carbon Dioxide

The new synthetic crystals can code information just as DNA does, in a more simple form based on the sequence of pores in the material.  The result is a sponge-like ability to trap gasses, along with a high degree of selectivity that in turn leads to highly efficient carbon capture.  According to a UCLA press release, Deng was able to achieve a 400% improvement in carbon dioxide capture by manipulating the sequence.  Yaghi also sees the potential for developing synthetic crystal materials that can convert carbon dioxide into a fuel, or convert water to hydrogen.

Carbon-Chewing Minerals and “Swelling Glass”

Minerals called zeolites are also capable of absorbing carbon, and they are among the carbon capturing materials under study at Australia’s CO2CRCH3 Capture Project.  The UCLA breakthrough is also reminiscent of another innovation related to crystalline structure, a form of glass that can swell in a sponge-like manner and selectively trap volatile organic compounds.  Swelling glass, marketed under the trademark Obsorb, was developed by Wooster College  professor Paul Edmiston as a relatively quick and low cost way to clean up industrial sites.  The material can be stripped of the contaminants it captures and then reused hundreds of times.

Image: Crystal by Cillian Storm on

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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