A new technology developed in Australia for enhancing the durability and strength of plastic could radically increase efficiency levels in the energy sector.
The new "botox for plastic" developed by scientists at the CSIRO is capable of significantly enhancing the strength and extending the lifespan of plastic materials, thus dramatically improving their ability to clean up the exhaust gas emitted by power plants.
Dr Sam Lau from the CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering said the botox technique could lead to the development of plastic membranes capable of processing exhaust gases with far greater efficiency and speed.
"At the moment power generators rely on plastic linings made up of tiny holes just one nanometre wide, a tiny fraction of a width of a human hair," he said. "For decades scientists have been trying to improve the efficiency of this process by using plastics with larger holes."
Lau pointed out that the key impediment to efforts to develop more efficient filters has been the intrinsic physical limitations of modern plastics.
"These larger openings tend to age very quickly and collapse within a matter of days," said Lau.
The team has remedied this problem with a plastic "botox" which is incredibly dense, and capable of preserving the structure of the plastic lining for far longer periods of time.
"What we've done is make use of incredible compact materials known as Metallic Organic Frameworks - or MOF's - which have the surface area of a football field in just one gram," said Lau. "We've found that the density of MOF's acts like a shot of botox and actually freezes the larger holey structures in place for an entire year."
The breakthrough technology means that plastic linings with far larger holes are now feasible, making the speed of the separation process a staggering 50 times faster.
"This is a much more environmentally friendly approach and of course translates into huge cost and efficiency savings," said Lau.
He added that the technology has the potential for a broad range of applications in energy sector in addition to cleaning up the waste gas generated by power plants, including raising the purity of natural gas streams and separating water from alcohol during the biofuel synthesis process.