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Dry Water

September 2, 2010

The preeminent physicist, Niels Bohr, famously said, "...The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth." The scientific historian, Gerald Holton, wrote an entire book, "Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein," about this idea.[1] One technique for producing inventive ideas is to combine opposites into expressions, think for a while about what they might describe, and decide how these could be possible and useful. Some examples are "invisible ink," which gives us printing that can be read only under ultraviolet light as a useful counterfeiting detection method; and "silent sound," which leads to a multiplicity of ultrasonic devices. The expression, "dry water," falls into this scheme, and there's been some recent research in that area.

In 2001, Pascale Aussillous and David Quéré of the Laboratoire de Physique de la Matière Condensée, Collège de France, (Paris, France), published a paper in Nature that described their experiments with "Liquid Marbles."[2] They encapsulated water in hydrophobic powder. The resulting droplets behaved as non-wetting, soft solids that were mostly water.[3] Although I wasn't able to find the primary reference, the discovery of dry water apparently goes back to 1968 [4-5], and its first application was for cosmetics. There's been a recent effort to find applications for dry water technology at the University of Liverpool. At the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (Boston, MA), Ben Carter of the Liverpool Materials Chemistry Group run by Prof. Andrew Cooper, gave a presentation of their work with dry water.[4-8] Their version of dry water is about 95% water with a coating of silica which prevents adjacent droplets from coalescing into a liquid.

Dry water

Dry Water.

University of Liverpool Photograph.

Dry water is useful as a gas storage medium. Carter and his collaborators discovered that their dry water absorbs three times as much carbon dioxide as the equivalent weights of water and silica.[9] This night not be enough to be useful for carbon sequestration plants, but absorption of methane might make it a practical storage medium for gas-fueled vehicles.[8,10] Methane is a possible vehicular fuel, and methane hydrates found in nature are a potential source of considerable quantities of methane. In any case, dry water can be used as a medium for transport of methane and other components of natural gas. Dry water might be useful in the transport of hazardous liquids, and emulsions might be more stable under transport if contained in dry water droplets.

The Liverpool team found that dry water particles of maleic acid will react more easily with hydrogen to produce succinic acid,an important feedstock for other syntheses.[6,11] The Liverpool effort now is to generate enough industrial funding to build a pilot plant to produce enough dry water materials to be useful for product development.[8]


  1. Gerald Holton, "Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein," Harvard Univ. Press, 1973 (rev. ed., 1988), 512 pp.
  2. Pascale Aussillous and David Quéré, "Liquid marbles," Nature, vol. 411, no. 6840 (21 June 2001), pp. 924-927 .
  3. By Sarah Graham, "Scientists Create 'Dry' Water Droplets," Scientific American, June 21, 2001.
  4. Michael Bernstein and Michael Woods, "'Dry water' could make a big splash commercially," American Chemical Society Press Release, August 25, 2010
  5. "'Dry Water' Could Make a Big Splash Commercially, Help Fight Global Warming," Science Daily, Aug. 26, 2010.
  6. "'Dry Water' Technology for Clean Chemistry Applications," University of Liverpool Web Site.
  7. "Scientists create 'dry water'," Telegraph (UK), August 26, 2010
  8. Parmy Olson, "London Calling: What Is Dry Water?" Forbes blog, August 27, 2010.
  9. B. O. Carter, W. Wang, D. J. Adams and A. I. Cooper, "Gas storage in 'Dry Water' and 'Dry Gel' clathrates," Langmuir, vol. 26 (2010), pp. 3186-3193.
  10. W. Wang, C. L. Bray, D. J. Adams and A. I. Cooper, "Methane storage in dry water gas hydrates," J. Am. Chem. Soc., vol. 130 (2008), pp. 11608-11609.
  11. B. O. Carter, D. J. Adams and A. I. Cooper, "Pausing a stir: heterogeneous catalysis in "dry water," Green Chem., vol. 12 (2010), pp. 783-785.

Permanent Link to this article

Linked Keywords: Niels Bohr; Gerald Holton; counterfeiting; ultrasonic; Laboratoire de Physique de la Matière Condensée; Collège de France; Paris, France; Nature Journal; hydrophobic; University of Liverpool; American Chemical Society; Boston, MA; Ben Carter; Liverpool Materials Chemistry Group; Prof. Andrew Cooper; silica; carbon dioxide; carbon sequestration; water; methane; methane hydrate; natural gas; emulsions; maleic acid; hydrogen; succinic acid.

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