Though the discovery of these metal hybrids known as MOFs (Metal Organic Frameworks) was made 10 years back, their potential for use in commercial applications is being realized now.
According to the ESF (European Science Foundation) workshop convenor Gérard Férey. "The domain is currently exploding, and there are so many potential applications that it is difficult to decide how to prioritize them. The only limit is our imagination."
MOFs are porous materials with microscopic sized holes, resembling honeycombs at molecular dimensions. This property of having astronomical numbers of tiny holes within a relatively small volume can be exploited in various ways, one of which is as a repository for gases.
Gas molecules diffuse into the MOF solid and are contained within its pores. In the case of gas storage, MOFs offer the crucial advantage of soaking up some of the gas pressure exerted by the molecules.
This makes hydrogen derived from non-fossil energy sources such as fuel cells, or even genetically engineered plants, potentially viable as a fuel for cars while the alternative of pressurised canisters is not.
The key difference is that the amount of gas stored in a conventional cylinder at say 200 atmospheres pressure could be accommodated in an MOF vessel of the same size at just 30 atmospheres, which is much safer.
The porous nature of MOFs enables them to be exploited in quite another way as catalysts to accelerate chemical reactions for a wide variety of materials production and pharmaceutical applications, although this field is still in its infancy.
Yet already, the field is gaining interest beyond academia from serious companies, with a significant development at the ESF workshop being the presence and support of German chemicals giant BASF.
"This in turn has provided high endorsement of the field's potential and has stimulated interest from other companies," according to Férey.