Intrinsically Porous Molecular Materials (IPMs) for Natural Gas and Benzene Derivatives Separations

Gengwu Zhang, Bin Hua, Avishek Dey, Munmun Ghosh, Basem Moosa, Niveen M. Khashab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Separating and purifying chemicals without heat would go a long way toward reducing the overall energy consumption and the harmful environmental footprint of the process. Molecular separation processes are critical for the production of raw materials, commodity chemicals, and specialty fuels. Over 50% of the energy used in the production of these materials is spent on separation and purification processes, which primarily includes vacuum and cryogenic distillations. Chemical manufacturers are now investigating modest thermal approaches, such as membranes and adsorbent materials, as they are more cognizant than ever of the need to save energy and prevent pollution. Porous materials, such as zeolites, metal–organic frameworks (MOFs), and covalent organic frameworks (COFs), have dominated the field of industrial separations as their high surface areas and robust pores make them ideal candidates for molecular separations of gases and hydrocarbons. Separation processes involving porous materials can save 70%–90% of energy costs compared to that of thermally driven distillations. However, most porous materials have low thermal, chemical, and moisture stability, in addition to limited solution processability, which tremendously constrain their broad industrial translation. Intrinsically porous molecular materials (IPMs) are a subclass of porous molecular materials that are comprised of molecular host macrocycles or cages that absorb guests in or around their intrinsic cavity. IPMs range from discrete porous molecules to assemblies with amorphous or highly crystalline structures that are held together by weak supramolecular interactions. Compared to the coordination or dynamic covalent bond-constructed porous frameworks, IPMs possess high thermal, chemical, and moisture stability and maintain their porosity under critical conditions. Moreover, the intrinsic porosity endows IPMs with excellent host–guest properties in solid, liquid (organic or aqueous), and gas states, which can be further utilized to construct diverse separation strategies, such as solid–gas adsorption, solid–liquid absorption, and liquid–liquid extraction. The diversity of host–guest interactions in the engineered IPMs affords a plethora of possibilities for the development of the ideal “molecular sieves”. Herein, we present a different take on the applicability of intrinsically porous materials such as cyclodextrin (CD), cucurbiturils (CB), pillararene (P), trianglamines (T), and porous organic cages (POCs) that showed an impressive performance in gas purification and benzene derivatives separation. IPMs can be easily scaled up and are quite stable and solution processable that consequently facilitates a favorable technological transformation from the traditional energy-intensive separations. We will account for the main advances in molecular host–guest chemistry to design “on-demand” separation processes and also outline future challenges and opportunities for this promising technology.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-168
Number of pages14
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 17 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry


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