Ionic liquids – fluid salts – date back more than a century, but it was not until the 1990s that these "super-solvents" revealed their potential for new chemistry, with a host of impressive uses. Unlike normal liquids, such as petrol or water (which consist of molecules held together by weak forces), ionic liquids consist of positively and negatively charged units. Unlike table salt, where the charged sodium and chloride atoms are very similar in size and pack together so tightly that they form a solid crystal, ionic liquids are made up of ions of “ugly” shapes and differing sizes, so they remain liquid at room temperature: they do not form vapours.
At Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories, QUILL, in Belfast, Ken Seddon and Jim Swindall lead a team of nearly 100 scientists exploring the potential of these green solvents. The liquids dissolve almost everything, from elements such as sulfur and phosphorus (that traditionally require nasty solvents) to polymers, including biomass; they can even remove bacterial biofilms (such as MRSA). They are already being used in a process to remove mercury from natural gas (Petronas) in Malaysia. Others can be used as heat pumps, compression fluids, or lubricants.
- Northern Ireland
- Queen's University of Belfast
- Key Individuals
- Ken Seddon, John Holbrey, Martin Atkins,