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Separation of rare gases and chiral molecules by selective binding in porous organic cages

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Mark ThomasORCiD, Jayne Armstrong, Dr Jon Bell


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The separation of molecules with similar size and shape is an important technological challenge. For example, rare gases can pose either an economic opportunity or an environmental hazard and there is a need to separate these spherical molecules selectively at low concentrations in air. Likewise, chiral molecules are important building blocks for pharmaceuticals, but chiral enantiomers, by definition, have identical size and shape, and their separation can be challenging. Here we show that a porous organic cage molecule has unprecedented performance in the solid state for the separation of rare gases, such as krypton and xenon. The selectivity arises from a precise size match between the rare gas and the organic cage cavity, as predicted by molecular simulations. Breakthrough experiments demonstrate real practical potential for the separation of krypton, xenon and radon from air at concentrations of only a few parts per million. We also demonstrate selective binding of chiral organic molecules such as 1-phenylethanol, suggesting applications in enantioselective separation.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Chen L, Reiss PS, Chong SY, Holden D, Jelfs KE, Hasell T, Little MA, Kewley A, Briggs ME, Stephenson A, Thomas KM, Armstrong JA, Bell J, Busto J, Noel R, Liu J, Strachan DM, Thallapally PK, Cooper AI

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature Materials

Year: 2014

Volume: 13

Pages: 954-960

Print publication date: 01/10/2014

Online publication date: 20/07/2014

Acceptance date: 16/06/2014

ISSN (print): 1476-1122

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4660

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/NMAT4035


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Funder referenceFunder name
US Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Nuclear Energy
Region PACA (Provence-Alpes-Cote-d'Azur)
321156European Research Council under FP7
DE-AC05-76RL01830Battelle Memorial Institute