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As much oxygen as you need

By Dave Armstrong - 03 Oct 2014 17:9:0 GMT
As much oxygen as you need

The only scuba gear needed in future could be the weights, or maybe we will be able to swim like the hawksbill? Scuba image; Credit: © Shutterstock

A cobalt-based organic molecule has just been specially created to absorb oxygen. Now how useful is that, you could say, when we need to absorb carbon dioxide rather than the molecule we respire! But the value of oxygen lies in releasing it where it’s needed. By rapidly or slowly absorbing it from either water or air, we can help large numbers of people who need oxygen. These would range from climbers and divers to the medical uses for much more needy lung patients and ex-smokers whose lungs are basically incompetent.

Denmark (the University of Southern Denmark in Odense) and Sydney University, Australia have contrived this chemical miracle. Many have attempted to solve the “rebreather” problem for divers, but a section of our sporting community will be very pleased to see this adapted for scuba, as well as deeper diving and mountaineering.

Jonas Sundberg, Lisa J. Cameron, Peter D. Southon, Cameron J. Kepert and Christine J. McKenzie publish their paper as, “Oxygen chemisorption/desorption –“ in Chemical Science. They found the nitrate anions of the crystal can be rapidly replaced by O2 in the form of neutral dioxygen. At the same time water molecules are involved in several hydrations and re-hydrations. If you can focus, the crystal looks like this:

[{(bpbp)Co2II(NO3)}2(NH2bdc)] (NO3)2 * 2H2O" –yes we thought that, too.

The crystal could therefore act as the equivalent of a large oxygen tank. Professor McKenzie was found to exaggerate the amount of crystal required to absorb one room’s oxygen after a simple maths error. Instead of the claimed spoonful, a normal room would require a bucket of the stuff. She also refers to the new molecule as a solid artificial hemoglobin and it certainly fills the role.

That still means that bulky tanks do not need to be dragged around by sick people or even as “aqualung” tanks of oxygen. This product, when made commercially, will carry three times as much oxygen in the same volume and could be known as “Aquaman Crystals”, following the comic-obsessed youth of one of the team. A few crystals in fact provide for one breath and, underwater, would reabsorb sufficient oxygen near the surface to supply the diver with ample supply. Sounds great for snorkel use too, as he surface waters tend to be as interesting as the colourless depths.

The only requirement for releasing the precious gas would be to heat it, or quite conveniently for artificial photosynthetic cells, expose it to light. The latter idea is still under research, so the latest ways of utilising the enormous potential of photosynthesis may have to hang fire. Here was one group of researchers struggling last year towards the production of hydrogen from photosynthetic enzymes in Photosynthetic Solar Power.