Disruptive Materials, a spin-out from Uppsala University in Sweden, is commercializing a material which was previously thought to be impossible to make. Dubbed Upsalite, after the university where it was created, the material has a world record breaking surface area, making it superb for a range of applications from treatment of toxic waste to drug delivery
Upsalite is a form of magnesium carbonate - a common material in nature. The abundant forms of the material are crystalline, however, and it was believed until very recently that the water-free amorphous form is impossible to create.
In 2011, researchers from the Division of Nanotechnology and Functional Materials at Uppsala managed to refute 100 years of scientific literature - by accident! Whilst experimenting with different synthesis conditions for magnesium carbonate, an experiment was left running over the weekend by mistake.
When the team returned, they found that a rigid gel had formed. Using a variety of materials characterisation techniques, they were able to determine that the substance they had made was in fact the disordered form which had previously been assumed to be impossible to make.
This was an exciting discovery - but even more exciting were the properties of the material. Upsalite has the highest surface area of any substance in its class, at 800 m2/g - this puts it in the same category as exotic materials like zeolites, metal-organic frameworks, and carbon nanotubes.
The pore structure of Upsalite was also found to be quite unique, as Prof. Maria Strømme, leader of the research team and co-founder of Disruptive Materials, explained:
We found that the material was filled with empty pores all having a diameter smaller than 10 nano meters. This pore structure gives the material a totally unique way of interacting with the environment leading to a number of properties important for applications of the material.
These properties give Upsalite a distinct edge over its commercial competition - it was shown to be significantly better at absorbing water at low humidities than the best commercially available zeolites.
The team hope that properties will lead to sustainable products in treatment of water, chemical waste, and even cleaning up oil spills. Disruptive Materials, the company founded by Maria Strømme and Johan Gómez de la Torre, aims to commercialize Upsalite, along with other materials in development, for applications such as these.
Sources and Further Reading
Upsalite - Disruptive Materials
A sample of Upsalite® - a type of nanoporous magnesium carbonate with an incredibly high surface area
SEM micrograph of Upsalite®.
Higher magnification SEM of a smaller region of the Upsalite® sample, clearly showing the textural porosity of the material. Scale bar: 200nm.
Representative TEM image of Upsalite® showing contrast consistent with a porous material. The image is recorded with under-focused conditions to enhance the contrast from the pores. Scale bar: 50 nm.
Maria Strömme and Johan Gómez de la Torre, co-founders of Disruptive Materials.