A haemoglobin-like material has been manufactured by a team of researchers that might potentially decrease our dependence on heavy oxygen tanks for both patients with lung ailments and divers. The newly-created substance can absorb and save oxygen with the help of cobalt; this is pretty much like how haemoglobin works with the aid of the metal iron.
The life-gas, oxygen, is one of the factors that sustains our very existence. Our lungs need to breathe in oxygen, which is then diffused into our blood, where haemoglobin binds oxygen into its make-up so that the oxygen is transported and delivered where it is needed in the body. We might now have a crystalline material that can do the same job as haemoglobin outside the body. A new study has introduced this material which is equivalent to huge oxygen tanks.
Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark developed the material. The latter is able to absorb oxygen and save the gas at levels 160 times greater than air: 10 liters of the substance can take in all the oxygen present in a regular room.
The unbinding is then done by environmental conditions like heat and low pressure. The lead author, Christine McKenzie stated in a press release: “An important aspect of this new material is that it does not react irreversibly with oxygen – even though it absorbs oxygen in a so-called selective chemisorptive process. The material is both a sensor, and a container for oxygen – we can use it to bind, store and transport oxygen – like a solid artificial hemoglobin.”
The similarity with haemoglobin stretches further: the new susbtance also needs a metal for it to be able to bind with oxygen. The metal cobalt was used to trap the oxygen. It confers on the substance the exact molecular and electronic structure that allows it to suck in oxygen from the surroundings.
The study results have far-reaching implications. Oxygen absorbed and saved in such a manner would be greatly beneficial for divers: instead of diving with cumbersome oxygen tanks, they would be equipped with light materials capable of providing for far more oxygen.
The material could also be used in the medical field. Again, heavy oxygen tanks would be done away with. Imagine patients suffering from breathing problems not having to carry heavy oxygen tanks around.
Furthermore, the method of trapping the oxygen could be used to allow for artificial photosynthesis. It could also be put to use to make new kinds of fuel cells.