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June 10, 2019
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Geowhat?

You pull your car alongside a gas pump, pop the gas cap and put hydrocarbons into your tank. Never mind that some of those hydrocarbons were made using chemical processes that use poisonous acids. Getting around town is a necessity. 

But what if the fuels that power your car were derived not from traditional industrial processes, but from hot water, butanol and other benign Earth-abundant materials? In essence, mimicking the way the Earth—through hydrothermal organic chemistry—would create fuel, a way that’s sustainable and pollutant-free.

Geomimicry, the geologic analog of biomimicry, is the design and manufacture of products inspired by nature. Geomimicry models the Earth’s ways of doing chemistry and offers new routes to organic chemicals that are robust, cost-efficient and scalable

So, what if hydrothermal organic chemistry could be used to come up with a cleaner and more sustainable way to manufacture other products such as medicines, smartphones and batteries?

That’s the thinking of a group of Arizona State University researchers who have proposed geomimicry as a research challenge to the NSF 2026 Idea Machine competition.

Out of more than 800 ideas submitted, there are now just over 30 finalists—including the ASU team. Fewer than five winners will be selected.

The National Science Foundation competition lays the foundation for breakthrough research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and STEM education. It will shape the U.S. agenda for fundamental science, engineering and STEM education.

Participants suggest research questions, or “Big Ideas,” that need to be answered in the coming decade. Some of the submissions will become the next set of “Big Ideas” for future investment by the NSF.

With your help, we can make geomimicry happen on a grand scale. Here's how:

  • Watch the geomimicry video here.
  • Vote by leaving a comment for this National Science Foundation (NSF) "Big Idea."

Researchers include Ian Gould, President's Professor, School of Molecular Sciences; Hilairy Hartnett, associate professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Molecular Sciences; Everett Shock, professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Molecular Sciences; and Kirt Robinson and Charlene Estrada, postdoctoral scholars, School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Image courtesy of Michael Northrop.