UC Berkeley researchers contribute to development of material that removes sulfur dioxide from other gases

Gemma Smith/Manchester University/Courtesy

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Using X-rays produced at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, an international team of researchers developed a material to separate sulfur dioxide from other gases.

Sulfur dioxide emissions typically come from industrial facilities and transportation, with anthropogenic sources accounting for more than 87% of global emissions, according to the team’s study that was published Oct. 14. Although these emissions can greatly affect human health and the environment, sulfur dioxide can also be recovered and reused if it is efficiently transported.

“The development of efficient strategies to fully mitigate emissions of SO2 and to achieve efficient SO2 storage and safe transport remains a fundamental challenge for many industries and for power plants and marine transport sectors,” according to the study.

The team, led by University of Manchester scientists, developed metal-organic framework, or MOF, material to separate sulfur dioxide from a gas mixture and preserve it for use in chemical production, according to an article from Berkeley Lab.

To determine the binding sites of sulfur dioxide, X-rays produced at Advanced Light Source enabled exploration of the detailed molecular structure of the MOF crystals.

“MFM-170 shows industrial promise for SO2 separation, storage for transport and recollection of SO2 to be used as a feedstock for other industrial processes such as sulfuric acid production,” said Simon Teat, a Berkeley Lab staff scientist, in an email.

The experiments, which helped scientists better understand how sulfur dioxide binds inside of MFM-170, used a specialist gas environment cell developed by campus professors, including Jeffrey Long, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

“By understanding how the gas interacts with the MOF it should be possible to design materials with even better properties of interest,” Teat said in the email.

In its “breakthrough experiments,” the researchers exposed MFM-170 to stimulated exhaust gases, finding that the MOF material successfully separated sulfur dioxide from other gases in a range of temperatures and in the presence of water, according to the study.

Current techniques to remove sulfur dioxide from pollution streams have adverse effects because they can produce a significant amount of solid and liquid waste and usually remove between 60% to 95% of the sulfur dioxide, according to the Berkeley Lab article.

On the other hand, MFM-170 can remove sulfur dioxide to a level under 0.1 parts per million. Furthermore, this material would reduce the energy and water requirement of existing techniques while also minimizing the production of solid and liquid waste, Teat said in the email.

According to the study, “MFM-170 is stable to water, acid and base and shows great promise for the dynamic separation of SO2 from simulated flue gas mixtures, as confirmed by breakthrough experiments.”

Contact Maxine Mouly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.