Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT for short) have designed a material that grows, strengthens, and repairs itself by reacting with the carbon dioxide in the air.
With the recent UN report on global warming urging world leaders to bring ‘rapid and far-reaching change’ for reducing man-made causes of global warming, this development, though on a short scale, can be a sigh of relief.
The material not only can be created without using fossil fuels but also consumes/reduces the existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It Works Like a Plant
The material under discussion is a hydrogel mix and has the potency to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas from the air. The composition includes glucose polymer, aminopropyl methacrylamide (APMA), and glucose oxidase, an enzyme.
However, the active ingredient that makes it all so special is chloroplast taken from plant cells, which catalyzes the process of photosynthesis. Due to chloroplasts, the material, just like any plant, consumes carbon dioxide from the air and grows itself.
A paper, published in the journal Advanced Materials, has described this development. The corresponding author of this paper, Michael Strano, describes it as,
Imagine a synthetic material that could grow like trees, taking the carbon from the carbon dioxide and incorporating it into the material’s backbone.
If scratched or cracked, this material would regrow without requiring any kind of energy like heat or light or any reaction for that matter. This quality gives it a massive lead in the realm of the present self-repairing plastics, which require certain reactions to heal themselves.
This new development can make transporting building material a lot easier. As when transporting, it will be lighter in weight, but when it arrives, it can make itself stronger.
As the creators of this material say, carbon dioxide needs not to be a burden or a cost any more, Rather, it can be an opportunity given that it exists everywhere. “In this way, our work is about making materials that are not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative,” says the author of the paper.
Plenty of Issues to Overcome
Nevertheless, researchers have to overcome many hurdles to use this material in everyday life. For one, previously, chloroplasts have proven to stop functioning in a while after removed from a plant.
The paper has named many methods to increase the lifetime of these organic components. Moreover, as the authors of the report suggest, a non-biological catalyst can replace chloroplasts that can serve the same purpose but for a longer period. Another challenge is to make this material stronger, as currently, it can only be used as a gap-filler or self-repairing coating.