Porous materials, such as activated carbon and zeolites, are of scientific and technological interest and have been used in a wide range of high impact applications such as gas capture and separation, catalysis, and hydrogen storage. These technologies can be further advanced by the development of novel porous materials. A new class of porous materials is metal organic frameworks, also called MOFs. Metal organic frameworks are porous polymer crystals with high surface area, tunable porosity, and rich functionality. Despite great progress in both the synthesis and applications of metal organic frameworks, nanomanufacturing technology to produce these materials in a rapid, controllable, and scalable manner is lacking. This research will advance knowledge in support of creation of a novel nanomanufacturing process for scalable fabrication and exploration of novel metal organic frameworks-based nanomaterials, investigating a continuous aerosol-assisted microdroplet process. The research will develop knowledge and skills in nanomanufacturing, process development, nanostructure design, and mathematical modeling to stimulate and educate students at all levels, in particular, minorities, women, and underrepresented groups. The project will foster the next generation of scientists and engineers through development of new courses in nanomanufacturing and metal organic frameworks, offering new research opportunities, and organizing science camps.

The primary objective of this research is to investigate and develop a microdroplet-based nanomanufacturing process, consisting of a pressure and temperature-controllable aerosol reactor with an integrated online characterization platform, for the fabrication of metal organic frameworks or MOFs. The project addresses the fundamental issues of long synthesis duration, slow crystal nucleation and growth, non-uniform heating, and inhomogeneous mixing that plague conventional wet-chemistry methods. By combining experimental investigations with numerical simulations on transport phenomena at both the macroscopic and microscopic scales, the detailed formation and self-assembly mechanisms of metal organic frameworks-based nanomaterials in microdroplets are unraveled. This research transforms the fabrication of metal organic frameworks-based nanomaterials from bulk solution-based methods to a microdroplet-based approach. The project provides a rapid, continuous and scalable platform for manufacturing such important nanomaterials with controllable nanostructures, and offers new insights into the quantitative understanding of pathways for their formation. The availability of affordable MOFs in large quantities should help tackle a variety of energy and environmental challenges, such as energy sources, air quality control, and water treatment.

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Virginia Commonwealth University
United States
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