What the Heck is a Porous Liquid?

By Maddie Stone on at

Scientists at the Queen’s University Belfast have just invented the world’s first “porous liquid,” and it’s being hailed as a major breakthrough. But what on Earth is it?

Porous materials, as their name would suggest, are materials with holes. But we’re not talking swiss cheese or vinyl mesh-type holes. These are materials that look totally solid to the naked eye, but on a molecular level, contain lots of empty space. Useful as both catalysts and molecular separators, porous solids have seen their way into a variety of industrial applications, including plastics and petrol manufacturing.

But in many cases, it’d be more useful to have a porous liquid than a porous solid. For instance, if we want to retrofit a power plant with carbon capture technology, one option would be installing a liquid circulation system, filled with a solution that slurps up carbon. Now we’re one step closer to doing just that.

What the Heck is a Porous Liquid?

A new “porous liquid” consists of molecular cages that exclude a solvent. Image Credit: Queen’s University Belfast

Writing today in the journal Nature, a team of chemical engineers describes the world’s first bonafide porous liquid—a solution consisting of organic “cage molecules” designed to enclose empty space. These molecular cages are dissolved in an organic solvent that provides fluidity, but whose molecules are too large to enter the cage. The liquid contains hundreds of times more empty space than traditional fluids, and it turns out to be great at soaking up methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Now let’s just hope we can scale up manufacturing quickly. We’re gonna need a porous ocean to soak up all the crap we’ve dumped into the atmosphere. [Read the full scientific paper at Nature]