ELGRA Biennial Symposium and General Assembly location:San Torini date:21-23 September
Synthetic zeolites are porous silicate based materials that are invaluable materials in a sustainable industrialised world. Zeolite adsorbents and catalysts are workhorses of petroleum refining operations and natural gas purification. They are used in large volumes as detergent builder and as drying agents. Applications extend into a wealth of new areas including environmental protection, production of fine chemicals serving as e.g. pharmaceuticals, nutriceuticals, fragrances, flavours, agrochemicals, and further as sensors, electro-optical devices etc..
The industrial synthesis of zeolites currently is a slow process involving the conversion of a silicate-based hydrogel into crystalline material through a lengthy hydrothermal treatment. Especially the synthesis of siliceous zeolites takes hours to days of processing time. Why this crystallisation process takes that long is presently poorly understood. Another handicap of today's zeolite material technology is the particle size range of typically around the micrometer. There is a manifested interest in alternative structuring of zeolite matter, such as e.g. in nano-zeolites, films, membranes and hierarchical materials having structural order at the meso- and macroscale beside the atomic scale. This R&D area could gain tremendously from a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms through which microporous silica frameworks are assembled. Improved insight into molecular mechanisms is indispensable for the design and synthesis of tailor-made materials for numerous potential applications awaiting the development of an appropriate zeolite.
In a previous microgravity research project it was demonstrated that microgravity research is an invaluable tool for achieving scientific progress in this area. Ordered liquid phases (OLP's) involved in the zeolite formation process that are much better developed under microgravity compared to gravity were discovered. Recently, a new proposal combining the expertise of a variety of experimental and theoretical groups to study the formation of porous silicate materials has been accepted by the European Space Agency. The impact of microgravity experiments on the understanding of zeolite-formation will be presented and future research efforts in this direction will be outlined during the ELGRA meeting.