Efficient energy production and capture

We're creating innovative new material-based solutions to reduce carbon emissions and efficiently store and separate gases. We also work with industry on ways to improve gas flow and processing for greater productivity.

The Challenge

Finding innovative ways to lower carbon emissions

As world energy demands increase, new technologies are needed to maximise hydrocarbon recovery, provide alternative energy sources, and offer sustainable approaches to lower carbon emissions and handle unwanted by-products.

Our sustainable technologies benefit the energy industry through greater productivity. © iStock, iznashih

The challenge is to capture the possibilities opened up by new materials in the energy and environment space.

Our Response

Harnessing MOFs to capture harmful gases

A highly promising development are metal organic frameworks (MOFs), a sponge-like material with huge potential for capturing carbon dioxide and removing other harmful contaminants from the environment.

Our focus is on on applying MOFs for gas storage and separation. For example, we developed a membrane embedded with crystals that efficiently separates natural gas from contaminants and lasts much longer than traditional membranes. We are working with the gas industry to see if they can be used to replace multi-storey processing plants with smaller, truck-sized systems.

Other materials we're developing for the energy sector include:

  • smarter control of fluid flow in oil/gas reservoirs to enhance production
  • maintaining flow of recovered natural gas in subsea pipelines
  • flow assurance
  • offshore gas processing
  • gas storage
  • managing unwanted solid production in oil/gas reservoirs
  • repair of subsea pipelines.

Matthew Hill - CSIROseven

Show transcript

[Text appears on screen: Can crystals clean gas, water and air?]

[Music plays and image changes to show Matthew] 

Matthew Hill: My name’s Matthew Hill. I lead one of the teams here that works on porous materials, so these are powders with lots and lots of holes inside of them and these can be used for just about anything.

[Image changes to show Matthew operating a machine with lots of pipes and gauges] 

And what we do is try to take something that’s an interesting scientific discovery and turn it into something that we can use out in the real world.

[Image changes to show Matthew and a colleague working with MOF samples]

So one of the materials we work with is called Metal Organic Frameworks or MOFs, and these things they look like salt or sugar crystals but inside them is a huge number of holes and those holes create a lot of surface inside. So they’re kind of like a sponge and there’s so much surface that there’s actually a football field worth of surface area in about a teaspoon worth of material.

[Image changes to show a shelf of bottled samples]

What we do is use all of that surface to soak up a target molecule. One really exciting use for MOFs is in storing hydrogen. The first hydrogen powered car has just come to Australia, it’s up in Sydney. 

[Image changes to show Matthew filling up a gas cylinder as explained below]

What you do is you fill up, basically a gas cylinder with the hydrogen to run the car and it turns out if you put our MOFs, our special sponges, in the tank you can store as much as twice as much hydrogen in that tank and the exciting thing about a hydrogen car is that the only thing that comes out the exhaust pipe is water. 

[Image changes to show a colleague of Matthew’s holding up a beaker with a clear liquid inside it and then moves to show Matthew talking to her]

So there’s no carbon dioxide emitted at all, so it’s very exciting as a way to stop our carbon omissions. 

[Image changes to show Matthew holding a small child who is reaching for a leaf from a tree]

A lot of people would think science is not necessarily a very creative field, but I think it’s very creative. My aunt is a professional painter and a lot of people say that her and I are very similar people and how did we end up in such different areas, when I say, it’s actually the same, it’s about imagination and creativity and so every day we come to work we’re doing something that no one else in the history of the universe has ever done, and so that is necessarily creative and we have to imagine what the future might be. 

[Image changes to show Matthew writing different equations]

We’re often working on time lines of many years, and if we can’t imagine what the end of our path might be then we tend to go around in a circle. 

[Image changes to show Matthew and a colleague walking together]

Into the future, in the next couple of years, we’re really hopeful you’ll start to see our MOFs out there in the real world.

[Different images of Matthew playing with a child and at work flash by on screen] 

We’re only really limited by what we can imagine using these things for and any application where you can think of separating or storing or releasing some target molecule of interest, and there’s just about every industry where this is relevant, we think these materials might play a part.

[CSIRO logo appears with text: Find out more csiro.au/seven]

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Case studies

  • Crystal sponges to clean up waste

    New sponge-like crystals that clean up contaminants in industrial waste and soil can now be made rapidly and for 30 per cent of the cost.

  • Designer crystals improving next-gen electronics

    A new process that uses vapour – rather than liquid – to grow designer crystals could lead to a new breed of faster, more powerful electronic devices.

  • Glowing fingerprints to fight crime

    Fingerprint identification has been used as a key method by law enforcement and forensic experts for over 100 years. Our new method for making invisible fingerprints glow could help the law catch up with the ‘bad guys’.

  • Anti-ageing plastic to clean up exhaust gases

    We developed a material that prevents plastic from ageing. It can be used in power plants to separate gases faster and more effectively.

  • Soaking up CO₂ with a new 'solar sponge'

    Our scientists created a 'solar sponge' which captures and then releases carbon dioxide using the power of natural sunlight, offering power stations a lower energy solution.

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