Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden have successfully synthesized a new, "impossible" material. The magnesium carbonate material, which has been dubbed "upsalite" by the scientific community, exhibits record-breaking properties that will likely benefit a wide range of industries.

Given its impressive surface area and water absorption qualities, upsalite promises to reduce the energy needed to regulate environmental moisture in drug formulation and electronics manufacturing as well as in warehouses and sports arenas. In addition, the material can help soak up toxic waste and oil spills.

"In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process," Johan Goméz de la Torre, nanotechnology and functional materials researcher, told reporters.

The magnesium carbonate material was synthesized in a water-free, disordered form — a feat long considered extremely difficult, even impossible. Throughout the past century, several research teams have reported unsuccessful attempts to create it, and subsequently concluded that it simply cannot be done.

For this reason, the department was instantly galvanized by the brand new material that formed when their reaction chamber was left unattended over the weekend.

"A Thursday afternoon in 2011, we slightly changed the synthesis parameters of the earlier employed unsuccessful attempts, and by mistake left the material in the reaction chamber over the weekend. Back at work on Monday morning we discovered that a rigid gel had formed and after drying this gel we started to get excited", said de la Torre.

During the year of intense research that followed, the team soon realized that besides synthesizing an impossible material, they were recording hitherto impossible properties. Upsalite has the highest surface measured for an alkali earth metal carbonate - 800 square meters per gram.

"This places the new material in the exclusive class of porous, high surface area materials including mesoporous silica, zeolites, metal organic frameworks, and carbon nanotubes", says Maria Strømme, a professor of nanotechnology and functional materials.

Upsalite's "impossible" structure allows the magnesium carbonate material to absorb liquid at relatively low levels of humidity, in quantities much higher than hydroscopic zeolites, the current industry standard.

"This, together with other unique properties of the discovered impossible material is expected to pave the way for new sustainable products in a number of industrial applications", says Maria Strømme.

The team plans to commercialize the new material through Disruptive Materials, an Uppsala University affiliate specializing in new materials. Further details about upsalite can be found in a study published in the journal PLoS One.

Source: Forsgren J, Frykstrand S, Grandfield K, Mihranyan A, Strømme M. A Template-Free, Ultra-Adsorbing, High Surface Area Carbonate Nanostructure. PloS One. 2013.