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Northwestern team synthesizes MOFs with highest surface areas yet and calculates new theoretical upper limit 39% beyond current; implications for gas storage

Different cages within NU-109 (d-g) and NU-110 (k-n). Hydrogens and disordered solvent molecules are omitted for clarity. Carbon = gray; oxygen = red; copper = teal. Purple spheres are included to guide the eye in distinguishing between th cages. Credit: ACS, Farha et al. Click to enlarge.

A team at Northwestern University has synthesized, characterized, and computationally simulated/validated the behavior of two new metal-organic framework (MOF) materials (NU-109 and NU-110) displaying the highest experimental Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) surface areas of any porous materials reported to date (~7,000 m2/g). This could eventually translate into the highest MOF-based gas storage capacity yet.

Additionally, the team demonstrated computationally a new surface area ceiling for MOFs (~14,600 m2/g) that substantially exceeds what much of the MOF community perceives to be a theoretical upper limit (~10,500 m2/g)—a 39% increase. Their work is published as an open access paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Extensive research over the past few years has been focused on the synthesis and characterization of microporous materials with high internal surface areas. Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs), a crystalline subset of these materials, have shown promise in a wide range of applications from gas storage, chemical separations, chemical sensing, and catalysis, to ion exchange, light harvesting, and drug delivery. High internal surface area is one of the foremost attributes of MOFs and has been shown to be highly desirable in many potential applications involving catalysis or storage.

—Farha et al.

MOFs are composed of of organic linkers held together by metal atoms, creating a molecular cage-like structure. Currently, two MOFs with experimentally accessible BET surface areas slightly above 6,000 m2/g have been reported: MOF-210 and NU-100.

Many researchers believe that the surface areas for NU-100 and MOF-210 are close to the ultimate experimental limit for solid materials, the authors noted in their paper.

This belief no doubt stems from: a) simulations showing that the upper theoretical limit for MOF surface areas is about 10,500 cm2/g when linkers are constructed from repeating phenyl groups,25,34 and b) anticipated practical problems, such as poor solubility, low synthetic yields, and cumbersome purification protocols, for candidate linkers featuring very large numbers of phenyl repeat units. We reasoned, however, that both the experimental maximum and the perceived theoretical ceiling could be substantially increased by moving beyond phenyl-only struts to more “area-efficient” building blocks for MOF linkers.

—Farha et al.

The Northwestern team focused on paddlewheel connected MOF networks (rht-topology). A key feature of this is that catenation (interpenetration or interweaving of multiple frameworks) is mathematically precluded. Capitalizing on this topology, they synthesized two new materials with ultra-high surface areas, NU-109 and NU-110, from two new hexa-carboxylated linkers.

The computational modeling results clearly show that the strategy of using progressively more acetylenes in the organic linkers of MOFs, whether alone or with other molecular sub-units, has the potential of creating ordered structures with surface areas substantially higher than any previously envisioned for metal-organic framework materials. Importantly, it seems reasonable to conclude that even the record-high surface area of 7,140 m2/g for NU-110 does not define the practical experimental upper limit for surface areas of porous materials, as it corresponds to only about 49% of the theoretical upper limit for MOFs featuring acetylene-rich linkers. Indeed, it is conceivable that other linker motifs–for example, ones based on extended polyenes, or on connecting-atoms that are lighter than carbon–could yield even higher computational ceilings for surface areas.

—Farha et al.


  • Omar K. Farha, Ibrahim Eryazici, Nak Cheon Jeong, Brad G Hauser, Christopher E Wilmer, Amy A. Sarjeant, Randall Q. Snurr, SonBinh T. Nguyen, Ahmet Özgür Yazaydin, and Joseph T. Hupp (2012) Metal-organic Framework Materials with Ultrahigh Surface Areas: Is the Sky the Limit? Journal of the American Chemical Society doi: 10.1021/ja3055639



Wonder what it is like to live in a simulated pseudo world? Isn't that what Star Trek was about?


Real news.

Sony just produced (printed) a 100M long very low cost graphene sheet for future (multiple) applications.




That's a rather snarky and ignorant comment, HarveyD. Why the negativity?

According to the article, the researchers chemically synthesized the materials, i.e. made them in the real world. Simulations of the properties of the materials then provided a check on what they made and studied in a lab. Validating real world findings with computer simulations doesn't transport the findings to a "simulated pseudo world".


What percentage of storage gain are we talking about? At what pressure? If pressure is low, that enables tanks that can be more easily designed to fit vehicles and not use up cargo space. Also less expensive, hopefully, tanks.

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