Adapting nature offers a wide variety of opportunities to create advanced materials in the laboratory that find their templates in natural minerals. Materials, which are nowadays gaining increasing importance, are mainly those related to economically, environmentally and socially sustainable processes. Minerals and their synthetic counterparts are used, for instance, for purification processes, energy conversion and storage materials, or as bio-inspired materials with structures and properties mimicking those of natural materials.
One example of a success story in which minerals provide the original for synthetic materials used on a large scale is zeolites. Natural zeolites, microporous aluminosilicates, are mostly formed in volcanic rocks by a hydrothermal transformation of e.g. volcanic ashes at low temperatures and almost without pressure. The formation conditions may sound relatively simple but the reconstruction of synthetic zeolite analogues is much more complex than might have been expected at first. The fascinating crystal structures with different channel and pore architectures have opened a wide field of technical applications. Both natural and synthetic representatives are used on a large scale in industry and agriculture. Zeolites are utilized as absorbers for water purification, gas-cleaning processes and catalysis. For the understanding of their physical and chemical properties, detailed information about formation conditions and crystal structures is essential.
The profound knowledge of minerals, their synthesis, crystal chemistry and characterization methods makes applied mineralogy and crystallography indispensable disciplines in the development of new and exciting materials for sustainable processes.