Super soakers: speedy crystal sponges to mop up industrial waste

By Emily Lehmann

29 July 2015

2 minute read

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The tiny crystal sponges up close. They are much bigger on the inside and the ideal waste filters.

Environmental management is a valuable business. As well as being critical for protecting our waterways, soil and health, it supports a rapidly growing industry, contributing billions of dollars to Australia’s GDP each year.

That’s why we’re coming up with better, more efficient tools to add value to the industry.

One promising new technology for cleaning up industrial waste and soil takes advantage of tiny sponge-like crystals made of metal organic frameworks (or MOFs). These super soakers make ideal waste filters, efficiently trapping large amounts of contaminants found in industrial wastewater and soil.

The crystals are deceptively small. Believe it or not, just one gram has the internal storage capacity of an entire football oval – that’s 7,000 square metres! Until now, these crystals have been challenging to manufacture and bring to market because of their lengthy and costly production time.

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CSIRO’s Paolo Falcaro – one of the clever brains behind the new method.

The good news for manufacturers is that we’ve come up with a way to grow the crystals quickly and cheaply for around 30 per cent of the cost. Rather than taking days, our method makes MOF crystals in as little as 15 minutes, making them viable to manufacture for the first time.

Our method has been used to create a specific type of MOF crystal based on zinc oxides, but we believe it could be applied to different types of MOFs in areas as diverse as energy and pharmaceuticals. These crystal gems could offer industry an innovative solution for turning tonnes of wastewater into safe, clean and usable resources.

We’re now looking to partner with manufacturers to develop these crystal sponges into a saleable product using our new process.

Find out how we’ve been applying these clever MOF crystals to other industries, including potential opportunities for your business.