University of Limerick
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Highly productive C3H4/C3H6 trace separation by a packing polymorph of a layered hybrid ultramicroporous material

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Ultramicroporous materials can be highly effective at trace gas separations when they offer a high density of selective binding sites. Herein, we report that sql-NbOFFIVE-bpe-Cu, a new variant of a previously reported ultramicroporous square lattice, sql, topology material, sql-SIFSIX-bpe-Zn, can exist in two polymorphs. These polymorphs, sql-NbOFFIVE-bpe-Cu-AA (AA) and sql-NbOFFIVE-bpe-Cu-AB (AB), exhibit AAAA and ABAB packing of the sql layers, respectively. Whereas NbOFFIVE-bpe-Cu-AA (AA) is isostructural with sql?SIFSIX-bpe-Zn, each exhibiting intrinsic 1D channels, sql-NbOFFIVE-bpe-Cu-AB (AB) has two types of channels, the intrinsic channels and extrinsic channels between the sql networks. Gas and temperature induced transformations of the two polymorphs of sql-NbOFFIVE-bpe-Cu were investigated by pure gas sorption, single-crystal X-ray diffraction (SCXRD), variable temperature powder X-ray diffraction (VT-PXRD), and synchrotron PXRD. We observed that the extrinsic pore structure of AB resulted in properties with potential for selective C3H4/C3H6 separation. Subsequent dynamic gas breakthrough measurements revealed exceptional experimental C3H4/C3H6 selectivity (270) and a new benchmark for productivity (118 mmol g−1) of polymer grade C3H6 (purity >99.99%) from a 1:99 C3H4/C3H6 mixture. Structural analysis, gas sorption studies, and gas adsorption kinetics enabled us to determine that a binding “sweet spot” for C3H4 in the extrinsic pores is behind the benchmark separation performance. Density-functional theory (DFT) calculations and Canonical Monte Carlo (CMC) simulations provided further insight into the binding sites of C3H4 and C3H6 molecules within these two hybrid ultramicroporous materials, HUMs. These results highlight, to our knowledge for the first time, how pore engineering through the study of packing polymorphism in layered materials can dramatically change the separation performance of a physisorbent.


Green Adsorbents for Clean Energy (GrACE)

Science Foundation Ireland

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SYNergistic SORBents

European Research Council

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Career Development Fellowships in the National Technology Centre Programme

European Commission

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Journal of the American Chemical Society


American Chemical Society

Other Funding information

M.J.Z. acknowledges the support of the Science Foundation Ireland (16/IA/4624), the Irish Research Council (IRCLA/2019/167), and the European Research Council (ADG 885695). S.J.N. and M.V. acknowledge the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) for the provision of computational facilities and support. S.J.N. is grateful for the support by Enterprise Ireland and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie (grant agreement no. 847402, project ID:MF20210297). We are especially grateful to ESRF for access to beamline ID22 and the Diamond Light Source for access to beamline I19, as well as the beamline scientists for their support.

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  • Bernal Institute

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  • Chemical Sciences

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