Innovation Upsalite Photo Simon Ydhag

Published on August 5th, 2013 | by Anneli Hidalgo

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New ‘impossible’ material made by accident

A new material with world record breaking surface area and water adsorption abilities has been synthesized by researchers from Uppsala University.

Until now, the material has been regarded as so difficult to make that the researchers that first discovered it have called it an impossible material. In 1908, German researchers claimed that the material could indeed not be made in the same way as other disordered carbonates, by bubbling CO2 through an alcoholic suspension. Subsequent studies in 1926 and 1961 came to the same conclusion. But the perhaps most striking news about this story is that the material was now discovered by accident.

“A Thursday afternoon in 2011, we slightly changed the synthesis parameters of the earlier employed unsuccessful attempts, and by mistake left the material in the reaction chamber over the weekend. Back at work on Monday morning we discovered that a rigid gel had formed and after drying this gel we started to get excited”, says Johan Goméz de la Torre, researcher at the Nanotechnology and Functional Materials Division in a press release.

Upsalite, the name of the magnesium carbonate material, is predicted to reduce the amount of energy needed to control environmental moisture in the electronics and drug formulation industry as well as in hockey rinks and ware houses. Also, according to the researchers it can be used for collection of toxic waste, chemicals or oil spill and in drug delivery systems, for odor control and sanitation after fire. Upsalite is for example found to absorb more water at low relative humidities than the best materials presently available; the hydroscopic zeolites, a property that can be regenerated with less energy consumption than is used in similar processes today.

The discovery will be commercialized though the University spin-out company Disruptive Materials that has been formed by the researchers together with the holding company of Uppsala University.

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