The Gypsum Files

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Plaster could be grown in the lab | Chem.Info

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Plaster grown in the lab

10 April 2012, by Adele Rackley

New research could be the first step towards a much cheaper and more efficient way to make plaster.

Scientists have reproduced the early stages of gypsum crystals in their laboratory, a process which could lead to a cheap way to manufacture the plaster of Paris that’s used by builders, artists and medical practitioners.

Chances are it’s on the walls and ceiling of the room you’re in now – 100 million tons of plaster of Paris, are manufactured every year from the naturally occurring mineral gypsum. As well as in the building industry, it’s widely used by artists and in medicine.

Plaster is made by first quarrying the gypsum, then driving out its water content to leave a powder made up of mineral called bassanite. It’s an energy-hungry process with a large carbon footprint.

But now researchers have documented the first steps that could lead to turning this process around.

Scientists from the University of Leeds and the CSIC-University of Granada in Spain, experimented with supersaturated gypsum solutions to try to figure out how gypsum crystals form – something that is not well understood. To their surprise they found that the first phase to form in the solution were bassanite nanoparticles – but under those chemical conditions bassanite should not have formed at all.

By taking a series of high resolution images they watched these tiny particles growing into rods and joining up into strings that eventually transform into gypsum crystals.

And this all happened at room temperature, so in principle this could become a low-energy way of producing the raw material for plaster of Paris.

via Plaster could be grown lab. | Chem.Info.


Written by Elizabeth McCullough

April 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm

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