From Marine Sponge to Catalyst
Taking the structure of marine sponge skeletons as their basis, researchers have developed a new form of three-dimensional composite for the modern materials industry. The material, known as graphite, has unique structural, mechanical and thermal properties and could serve in the future as a centimetre-thin catalyst for industry.
In various experiments, scientists under the guidance of Professor Hermann Ehrlich of the Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg in Germany analysed the 3D skeleton of a marine sponge. This consists of collagen-rich spongin and is particularly stable and heat resistant due to its multilayer nanofibres. The spongin scaffolds were carbonised at temperatures of up to 1200°C. The resulting carbon sponge is similar in shape and has the unique microarchitecture of the original spongin scaffold and is so stable that it can be cut into any shape with a metal saw. Covered with a metal layer, it becomes a unique hybrid material with outstanding catalytic performance.
"We have found a new way to use familiar sponges. Instead of using them only for cosmetics, we can now also use them for modern technologies," explains Professor Ehrlich. Together with his team, he is working on initial proposals for the production of the biomimetically inspired catalysts for industry. For two years, the 29 strong team has been researching the structure of renewable marine sponges, which are created by nature and have existed for 600 million years, in order to develop biomimetic models as alternatives to plastic frames for modern materials science. They are being supported by the German Research Foundation and the State Ministry of Science and the Arts. The research paper was published in the "Science Advances" magazine on 4 October.