Cracking the zeolite conundrum

Every drop of petrol that we burn, every piece of plastic that we use in our daily lives has been through a zeolite. They’re the porous catalysts that transform crude oil into useful molecules that so often we take for granted. But the search for new zeolites – to perform ever-more amazing chemical transformations – had reached a sticking point…

That’s because all the known zeolites, which number about 200 from the thousands of hypothetical structures, lie on a low energy-density correlation line of “feasible” zeolites. Most zeolites with higher energy cannot be made using the normal synthetic techniques – the so-called “zeolite conundrum”.

Zeolite-ZSM-fromWikipedia-thanks!

But researchers led by Russell Morris at St Andrews University, and Jiri Cejka at J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry in Prague, have just reported that their new method – the ADOR process (short for assembly–disassembly–organization–reassembly) – has allowed them to synthesize zeolites with much higher energies than was previously feasible. In short, they made a known zeolite containing some weak bonds that can be broken, and then re-assembled the parts using a template to direct the structure in two different ways. The result was two new materials with completely different structures – and potentially completely different catalytic properties – than the others. It sounds very simple, but it could turn out to be a remarkably powerful method. The paper’s here.

This great success story brings to my mind a few thoughts that I’ve had in my own research on coordination polymers, which are closely related to zeolites, both in their structures (crystalline, framework-like) and potential applications (adsorption, catalysis). The first is the energy-density correlation, which also seems to apply to CPs, although the range of energies is a little larger (see this paper for example). The second is how to synthesize new materials that are not accessible using standard chemistry… maybe we can use some of the lessons learnt from zeolites!

P.s. Nice work Michał!

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