'Dry water' could curb greenhouse gas emissions, scientists say

A substance scientists call "dry water" could help curb global greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide.

A substance scientists call "dry water" could help curb global greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide.

The curious substance, which resembles powdered sugar, could also be used to spark the chemical reactions necessary to make consumer products such as pharmaceutical drugs and food ingredients, scientists said.

It could also be a safer way to transport potentially harmful industrial materials.

University of Liverpool professor Andrew Cooper has been working with the substance since 2006, which consists of 95 percent water and was first discovered in 1968 by British researchers at the University of Hull.

How is it dry, you ask? Because each water droplet is surrounded by modified silica -- the material that makes up beach sand -- which prevents the water droplets from combining and turning back into a liquid.

It's the best of both worlds: a fine powder that can absorb gases like liquid water.

In a presentation at the 240th meeting of the American Chemical Society, Cooper explained how his research team found in lab experiments that dry water absorbed more than three times as much carbon dioxide as ordinary, uncombined water and silica. The gases combine with water molecules to form what is called a hydrate.

Previously, Cooper and company demonstrated that dry water could store the methane found in natural gas. (Frozen, it's a strange phenomenon called "combustible ice" -- ice that burns. SmartPlanet energy editor Melissa Mahony wrote about it in March 2010 .)

But plenty more must be accomplished before dry water can be used commercially for the purpose.

Cooper also said that dry water could be used to speed up the catalyzed reactions between hydrogen gas and maleic acid that produces succinic acid, widely used to make drugs, food ingredients and other consumer products. Currently, manufacturers must stir the components to kickstart the reaction; with dry water, that step is no longer necessary.

Finally, Cooper said dry water could be used to store liquids -- particularly emulsions, mixtures of two or more unblendable liquids (the oil and water in your salad dressing, for example). Cooper's team demonstrated that they could transform a simple emulsion into a dry powder.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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