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Weird Crystal Can Absorb All the Oxygen in a Room -- And Then Release It Later

oxygen_crystal

This could potentially make fuel cells, space travel, and scuba diving a lot more efficient.

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark say they’ve invented a crystal that pulls oxygen out of the air and even water. Apparently, just a spoonful of the stuff can suck up all the oxygen in a room.

The crystal is a salt made from cobalt*, and it appears to be capable of holding oxygen at a concentration that is 160 times higher than the air we breathe. The paper notes that "an excess" of the substance would bind up to 99 percent of the oxygen in a room.

But what’s more remarkable is that the crystal can later release the oxygen when exposed to heat or low-oxygen conditions. In a press release, study author Christine McKenzie likens it to the hemoglobin in our blood, which uses iron to bind and release oxygen in the human body.

If the substance lives up to its promises, it could have a lot of really cool applications—for example, feeding high concentrations of oxygen into hydrogen fuel cells, and lightening the load for lung patients who have to lug around heavy oxygen supplies. Also, scuba divers could potentially leave their tanks at home, says McKenzie. “A few grains contain enough oxygen for one breath, and as the material can absorb oxygen from the water around the diver and supply the diver with it, the diver will not need to bring more than these few grains."

The study was published in Chemical Science.

*If you must know, the chemical name of the salt is written out as [{(bpbp)Co2II(NO3)}2(NH2bdc)](NO3)2 * 2H2O, where “bpbp” stands for 2,6-bis(N,N-bis(2-pyridylmethyl)-aminomethyl)-4-tert-butylphenolato, and “NH2bdc2” stands for 2-amino-1,4-benzenedicarboxylato). Don’t ask us how to pronounce all that.


By Sarah Fecht

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