Open menu

What is a MOF (metal organic framework)?

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are organic-inorganic hybrid crystalline porous materials that are composed of single metal ions or metal clusters linked by polytopic organic ligands. MOFs offer unique structural diversity in contrast to other porous materials, allowing the successful control of framework topology, porosity, and functionality.
MOFs unique structure design and tunability – crystalline porous materials that are composed of both organic and inorganic components in a rigid periodic networked structure – is not readily accessible in conventional porous materials, e.g., purely inorganic zeolites.
Schematic illustration of a metal-organic framework (MOF)
Schematic illustration of a metal-organic framework (MOF). The MOF, consisting of metal ions and organic ligands, is a highly porous material with a ultrahigh surface area. The various structures of MOFs can be synthesized depending on the kinds of metal ions and organic ligands. (Image: KAIST)
By making the MOF from different metal atoms and organic linkers, researchers can create materials that selectively absorb specific gases into tailor-made pockets within the structure. MOFs therefore offer great potential for their effective integration and exploration in various sensing applications.
MOFs can be put together arbitrarily like Lego bricks and outperform every previously known class of material in terms of flexibility. The materials are porous and have interior surfaces which can add up to 4,000 square meters per gram.

MOF Applications

Numerous applications are being developed that exploit MOFs' cage-like structure with its unprecedented internal surface areas and easy chemical tunability to capture and store gases and particles.

MOF Gas Sensors

Typically, the instruments that can detect traces of a specific gas in the air are large, expensive, energy-intensive machines.
One promising way to make small, inexpensive, and energy-efficient gas sensors involves porous materials like metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). By making the MOF from different metal atoms and organic linkers, researchers can create materials that selectively absorb specific gases into tailor-made pockets within the structure.
MOFs' high surface area also is a beneficial aspect for high-performance gas sensors.
One example is a thin-film a tailor-made MOF, coated onto an electrode, that forms an electronic sensor that could detect traces of sulfur dioxide gas.
Sulfur dioxide molecules (red and yellow) are selectively taken up by pores in a metal-organic framework
Sulfur dioxide molecules (red and yellow) are selectively taken up by pores in the metal-organic framework. (Image: Valeriya Chernikova)
Scientists also found that a metal–organic framework, MFM-300(Al), not only effectively filters harmful nitrogen dioxide gas, but it also has outstanding capabilities for ammonia storage.

Carbon Capture

One particular MOF material exhibits an unprecedented cooperative mechanism for carbon dioxide capture-and-release with only small shifts in temperature. This structure of the MOF, with CO2 adsorbed, closely resembles the RuBisCO enzyme found in plants, which captures CO2 from the atmosphere for conversion into nutrients.
The discovery paves the way for designing more efficient materials that dramatically reduce overall energy cost of carbon capture. Such materials could be used for carbon capture from fossil-fuel-based power plants as well as from the atmosphere, mitigating the greenhouse effect.
Atomic structure of adsorbed carbon dioxide inside a MOF
Atomic structure of the adsorbed carbon dioxide (grey sphere bonded to two red spheres) inserted between the manganese (green sphere) and amine (blue sphere) groups within the novel metal-organic framework, forming a linear chain of ammonium carbamate (top). Some hydrogen atoms (white sphere) are omitted for clarity.
In other research, Mg-MOF-74, an open metal site MOF, has emerged as one of the most promising strategies for capturing and storing greenhouse gases.

MOFs for Refrigeration

Similar to the carbon capture application described above, researchers are exploring ways how MOFs may help lower energy consumption for air conditioning by engineering them to hold onto a large amount of refrigerant gases.
The high attachment of this gas – an environmentally friendly fluorocarbon called R134 and water – to MOFs hold promise for their use in adsorbent cooling systems that a can be powered by waste heat.
And the small nanostructure of the MOF and its higher sorption rate means the cooling systems can be made much smaller and, therefore, more efficient and economically viable.
metal organic framework
MOFs, sometimes visually likened to the classic Tinkertoy wooden play construction kits, are made up of metal ions clusters connected by organic linker molecules or bridging-ligands whose geometry and connectivity dictate the structure of the MOFs. By adjusting linker geometry and other characteristics, the size, shape and internal surface properties of MOFs can be optimized for targeted specific uses, such as cooling systems.
Another approach to cooling and heating involves MOF coatings that absorb water vapor like chillers or heat pumps.

Removing heavy metals from water with MOFs

Researchers treated a MOF, known as Fe-BTC, with dopamine, which polymerized to polydopamine (PDA) pinning the polymer inside the MOF. The final composite, named Fe-BTC/PDA, can quickly and selectively remove high amounts of heavy metals like lead and mercury from water samples. In fact, it can remove over 1.6 times its own weight of mercury and 0.4 times of its weight of lead.
Fe-BTC/PDA was then tested in solutions as toxic as some of the worst water samples found in Flint, Michigan. The tests showed that the MOF can, in a matter of seconds, reduce lead concentrations to 2 parts per billion, a level that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization deem drinkable.

MOFs to capture nuclear waste

At nuclear power plants and legacy waste sites, a particularly difficult-to-capture hazard is radioactive organic iodides. These compounds are made of hydrocarbons and iodine. By chemically modifying MOFs with binding sites that have reactive nitrogen that can bind to organic iodides, scientists have built MOF traps that exhibit a high methyl iodide capacity – over three times higher than the currently used industrial adsorbent under identical conditions.
Also, these new MOFs advantageously serve as good absorbents at lower temperatures. Furthermore, the MOF adsorbent can be recycled multiple times without loss of capacity, unlike other known industrial absorbents.

MOF Vaccines

MOF vaccines are based on a biocompatible polymer framework that 'freezes' proteins inside vaccines. The proteins then dissolve when injected in human skin. This innovation could help health care providers transport and administer vaccines in remote areas with unreliable power.
MOF vaccines are crystals that contain an antigen like the protein on the surface of influenza, except that since they’re frozen inside a crystalline lattice, they can’t denature or change shape.
Structural advantages of MOFs allow them to perform better at room temperature than artificial encasings like silica. Specifically, MOFs’ porous structure allows them to function as a semipermeable barrier to transport biological matter like proteins or antigens in vaccines.

Implantable MOF Nutrient Sensors

By integrating MOFs with flexible electronics, the electrochemical detection of nutrients without using enzymes becomes possible. In proof-of-concept work, researchers already have demonstrated MOF sensors that can be used to detect trace of ascorbic acid, L-Tryptophan, glycine, and glucose, all of which are nutriments that are closely involved in the metabolism and circulation processes.
These sensor can be implanted and, as MOFs are very stable, the new technique could potentially be used to conduct long-term monitoring of biomolecules at different locations simultaneously.
These devices could be used as a tool to help better understand various life processes. They can be used as implants to monitor biomolecules at different locations of various organs. When integrated with more stimulation and measurement functions, this type of devices can be used to control animal behaviors, reveal underlying mechanism of biological processes, monitor health conditions, and treat diseases.