A team of researchers at the University of Sydney has developed crystals full of microscopic holes that can capture gases like carbon dioxide. The scientists designed them to be used in facilities like power stations but they could have many other applications such as storing hydrogen or separating methane from nitrogen and carbon dioxide in natural gas..

According to Dr Deanna D’Alessandro, the chief researcher on the project,  "You could think of them a little bit like your kitchen sponge but in our case they are actually metal centres linked by organic bridging ligands and basically they form this massive three dimensional structure so a little bit like a sponge but it means that they have a really high internal surface area. "

The researchers say that their sponges are stronger and more robust than other processes previously used in carbon capture and that they can the withstand extreme environments where carbon dioxide emissions are often produced – such as coal-fired power stations.

In a power station, the flue gases could be passed through the material which would capture the carbon dioxide. Raising the temperature or lowering the pressure would release the carbon dioxide as required for storage and the sponge material could be re-used. It is also possible that this technology could be retrofitted to existing power plants.

Dr D’Alessandro says that power stations are interested in the technology because alternative methods of capturing carbon dioxide use between 20 and 40% of the power that the station produces.