Danish scientists have invented a revolutionary crystalline material that can absorb and store oxygen in high concentrations. A bucket of such material can suck the oxygen out of a room, which could potentially wave goodbye to heavy oxygen masks.
Imagine if you could get rid of the bulky scuba tank while taking a dive. Now, imagine practically any task to which the storage and timely release of oxygen is absolutely essential. And you have the new crystal developed at the University of Southern Denmark, with help from the University of Sydney, Australia.
A few microscopic grains are enough for one gulp of air, but a bucketful - or 10 liters - can completely suck the oxygen out of a room.
"In the lab, we saw how this material took up oxygen from the air around us,” Professor Christine McKenzie, who led the study, said.
When different things are exposed to oxygen, they react differently – from wine to food to living organisms, varying factors (pressure, temperature etc.) and time of exposure can fundamentally alter things. However, what you get with the new discovery is a way of controlling oxygen by not reacting with it.
This was ascertained by using x-ray diffraction, showing the material’s atomic behavior when it was full of oxygen, then when it was depleted of it.
"An important aspect of this new material is that it does not react irreversibly with oxygen - even though it absorbs oxygen in a so-called selective chemisorptive process. The material is both a sensor, and a container for oxygen - we can use it to bind, store and transport oxygen – like a solid artificial hemoglobin," McKenzie says.
"It is also interesting that the material can absorb and release oxygen many times without losing the ability. It is like dipping a sponge in water, squeezing the water out of it and repeating the process over and over again," she continues.
To release the stored oxygen, all that is needed is to heat up the material, or pressure it. And those are just the known, natural ways. McKenzie and the team are now looking further than that.