Influential Research at ChBE: Professor David Sholl’s Work with MOFs

Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering is known for the far-reaching impact of the research conducted by our faculty. In this Q&A feature, we spotlight research by Professor and School Chair David Sholl into metal-organic frameworks that has been widely cited in other studies in recent years.

In 2010, Sholl co-authored the paper “Can Metal-Organic Framework Materials Play a Useful Role in Large-Scale Carbon Dioxide Separations?” in ChemSusChem. Since that time, this study has amassed 273 citations in other journal articles.

Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) are a relatively new class of crystalline nanoporous materials that can be synthesized with a diverse range of pore dimensions, topologies, and chemical functionality. Their applications include gas storage, purification, separation, and catalysis. In the paper, Sholl and his co-authors explored the body of knowledge surrounding the possibility of using MOFs in large-scale carbon dioxide separations, such as separating CO2 from power plant flue gas. They found that potential exists, despite some challenges.


  • Why is this research into MOFs important? 

Chemical processes like adsorption and membrane-based separations using porous materials have potential to be radically more cost-effective for large-scale chemical separations than existing commercial technologies. Achieving this long-term outcome requires development of materials with carefully tailored properties and their incorporation into well designed processes. MOFs are far more chemically versatile and “designable” than other porous materials, which has driven tremendous world-wide interest in these materials.

  • How has the use of MOFs in large-scale carbon dioxide separations evolved since the publication of this paper? Are there still challenges?

There are certainly still challenges – capturing CO2 in an economically viable way is a grand challenge engineering problem. But great progress has been made in recent years in creating stable materials and incorporating MOFs into composite materials and carefully designed processes that have real promise for large-scale chemical separations.

  • Why do you think this paper has been cited so frequently?

I hope that the paper was successful in identifying some of the key research gaps and challenges that existed (and still exist) in an area that was receiving a great deal of interest and funding. It is relatively easy to write a review paper that simply lists all the studies that have been done in an area. We tried to go beyond this to provide a roadmap for future research and development.

  • Do you continue to research MOFs? What is some related research you’ve published?

My group and multiple others in ChBE continue to pursue research on MOFs for a host of applications. For example, a large part of the DOE-funded Energy Frontier Research Center that is led by ChBE faculty focuses on understanding and enhancing the stability of MOFs in real world environments such as those discussed in our 2010 article.

In addition to Sholl, other authors of the paper in ChemSusChem include Seda Keskin and Timothy M. van Heest. Keskin is now a faculty member at Koc University in Turkey and van Heest is the co-founder of an Atlanta area startup company. 

In 2012, Sholl co-authored another highly cited paper, "Ultem ® /ZIF-8 mixed matrix hollow fiber membranes for CO2/N-2 separations” (99 citations) in the Journal of Membrane Science.

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