New York: Finally, here is a new way of making a class of porous materials that allows for greater manufacturing controls and has significantly broader applications than the long-time industry standard.
The process, discovered by a team of University of Connecticut chemists, has resulted in the creation of more than 60 new families of materials so far, with the potential for many more.
Examples of porous materials include dry wall, wood, concrete, rubber and some plastic.
The key catalyst in the process is recyclable, making it a ‘green’ technology.
“This is definitely the most exciting project I have been involved in over the past 30 years,” says professor Steven L. Suib, the project’s principal investigator.
For the past 20 years, scientists have relied on a long-standing, water-based procedure for making mesoporous materials that was first developed by Mobil Oil.
That procedure has limitations. The size of the pores in the material is difficult to manipulate, and the stability of the underlying system weakens when exposed to high heat, limiting its use.
Having materials with uniform microscopic pores allows targeted molecules of a particular size to flow into and out of the material.
This is important in applications such as adsorption, sensors, optics, magnetic, and energy products such as the catalysts found in fuel cells.
“When people think about these materials, they think about lock-and-key systems,” said Suib.
“With certain enzymes, you have to have pores of a certain size and shape. With this process, you can now make a receptacle for specific proteins or enzymes so that they can enter the pores and specifically bind and react.”
The process also only works best when using silicon or titanium, as opposed to other metals of the periodic table.
“Such control of pore-size distribution, enhanced pore volumes, and thermal stabilities is unprecedented …,” the team wrote in its report.
“What we’ve done is similar to discovering a new insect, only now there is a series of families of these things that can be discovered. That’s pretty cool,” he added.
Suib’s research involves the creation of uniform, or monomodal, mesoporous metal oxides using transition metals such as manganese, cobalt and iron.
This unique approach helps contain chemical reactions and provides unprecedented control and flexibility, said the findings published in Nature Communications.