Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Queen’s invents 'porous liquid'  

12 November 2015

Scientists at Queen’s have scored a major breakthrough by inventing a porous liquid, with the potential for a massive range of new technologies including ‘carbon capture’.

Researchers in the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s, along with colleagues at the University of Liverpool, and universities in France, Germany and Argentina, have invented the new liquid and found that it can dissolve unusually large amounts of gas, which are absorbed into the ‘holes’ in the liquid. The results of their research are published today in the journal Nature.

The three-year research project could pave the way for many more efficient and greener chemical processes, including ultimately the procedure known as carbon capture - trapping carbon dioxide from major sources, for example a fossil-fuel power plant, and storing it to prevent its entry into the atmosphere.

Professor Stuart James of the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering said: “Materials which contain permanent holes, or pores, are technologically important. They are used for manufacturing a range of products from plastic bottles to petrol. However, until recently, these porous materials have been solids. What we have done is to design a special liquid from the ‘bottom-up’ – we designed the shapes of the molecules which make up the liquid so that the liquid could not fill up all the space.

“Because of the empty holes we then had in the liquid, we found that it was able to dissolve unusually large amounts of gas. These first experiments are what is needed to understand this new type of material, and the results point to interesting long-term applications which rely on dissolution of gases.

“A few more years’ research will be required, but if we can find applications for these porous liquids they could result in new or improved chemical processes. At the very least, we have managed to demonstrate a very new principle – that by creating holes in liquids we can dramatically increase the amount of gas they can dissolve. These remarkable properties suggest interesting applications in the long term.”

The study was mainly funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Engineering Physical Science Research Council.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson welcomed the development, saying: "As a One Nation government, we're investing in world-class science across the UK, and this latest discovery reflects the strength of research partnerships based at Belfast and Liverpool.

"While these are early findings, this research could pave the way for greener energy production in the future."

For more information, contact Queen’s Communications Officer Una Bradley (Mon-Thurs) on + 44 (0)28 9097 5384 or Acting Senior Communications Officer Claire Kelly on + 44 (0)28 907 5391.

Headline image: Artist’s impression of the structure of the newly invented porous liquid. Photo by Queen's University Belfast

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