Forty per cent of the energy consumed by industry is used to separate things— in natural gas production, mineral processing, food production, pollution control. The list goes on.
Each offers an application for Matthew Hill’s crystals. He has demonstrated that the space inside metalorganic frameworks (MOFs)—the world’s most porous materials—can be used as efficient and long-lasting filters.
By choosing different combinations of metals and plastics, Matthew’s CSIRO team can make a wide range of customised crystals. Then, using antimatter and synchrotron light, they map the internal pores, determine what each crystal can do and explore potential applications.
First cab off the rank is natural gas separation. His team has developed a membrane embedded with crystals that efficiently separates natural gas from contaminants and lasts much longer than traditional membranes. He’s working with gas companies to develop the patented technology that could replace the multistorey processing plants found on gas fields with smaller truck-sized systems.
Patented applications for the food industry are also in the works. And further down the track are carbon dioxide scrubbers; safe compact storage systems for gas and hydrogen; and even crystals that could deliver drugs on demand.
For his work on the development of metal organic frameworks for practical industrial application, Matthew Hill, Australian Research Council Future Fellow and leader of the Integrated Nanoporous Materials team at CSIRO, was awarded the 2014 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.