'Dry water' could help prevent global warming

Posted by Emma Woollacott

It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but British scientists have developed 'dry water', and say it could provide a new way to absorb and store carbon dioxide.

The powdery substance could also, they say, be a greener, more energy-efficient way of jumpstarting the chemical reactions used to make hundreds of consumer products. It could also provide a safer way to store and transport potentially harmful industrial materials.

"There’s nothing else quite like it," said researcher Ben Carter of the University of Liverpool. "Hopefully, we may see ‘dry water’ making waves in the future."

The substance became known as 'dry water' because it's 95 percent water and yet is a dry powder. Each particle contains a water droplet surrounded by modified silica. The silica coating prevents the water droplets from combining and turning back into a liquid.

The result is a fine powder that can slurp up gases, which chemically combine with the water molecules to form a hydrate.

While the concept of dry water was discovered, as far back as 1968, it was seen only as having potential for cosmetics. Only recently have scientists started developing it further.

One new application involves using dry water as a storage material for gases, including carbon dioxide. Professor Andrew Cooper and co-workers found that dry water absorbed over three times as much carbon dioxide as ordinary, uncombined water and silica in the same space of time. This  could make it useful in helping to reduce global warming.

Dry water is also useful for storing methane, a component of natural gas, and could help expand its use as a future energy source. ngineers could use the powder to collect and transport deposits of natural gas.

But, warns Carter, "A great deal of work remains to be done before we could reach that stage."

In another potential application, the scientists also showed that dry water can speed up catalyzed reactions between hydrogen gas and maleic acid to produce succinic acid, a raw material widely used to make drugs, food ingredients, and other consumer products.

And, says the team, dry water shows promise for storing liquids, particularly emulsions. They say they can transform a simple emulsion into a dry powder which could make it safer and easier to store and transport potentially harmful liquids.