Nanoporous materials

Research fields in the area of nanoporous materials include imprinted polymers which can function according to the lock-and-key principle, thus enabling the development of (for example) selective sensors, and metal-organic framework structures, for example for applications in the areas of gas storage, separation techniques and sensor technology. Current research projects include the EU/BMBF project "SENSIndoor" and the Fraunhofer cooperation "MOF2market".

Molecularly imprinted polymers

Molecular Imprinted Polymers
© Fraunhofer ICT
© Fraunhofer ICT

Molecular polymer imprinting is a highly elegant and efficient method of producing functional materials equipped with selective identification characteristics. Using the lock-and-key principle, selective materials can be produced for different applications, such as sensors, purification of mixtures or enrichment.

Advantages and applications

Molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) are produced by synthesizing highly cross-linked polymers in the presence of template molecules. In a self-organizing process, the growing polymer skeleton adapts to the molecular model, forming a type of imprint of the molecular template. The geometric adaptation of the polymer and the interactions of the functional groups, for example the formation of hydrogen bonds, make the polymer selective for the template, which means that it can be applied as a selective sensor coating.

At Fraunhofer ICT, MIPs are being developed as sensor coatings for the detection of explosives, and as particles for the enrichment of semi-volatile compounds. Various coating technologies such as nanoplotting, spin coating, screen printing and various synthesis methods (UV polymerization, suspension polymerization, core-shell particles are used. Possible analytes range from explosives or toxic substances, such as herbicides and pesticides, to natural substances such as steroids.

Our offer

  • Synthesis of MIP materials for customer-specific target molecules for enrichment / extraction or as selective sensor coatings
  • Adjustment or development of coating processes for various sensor surfaces
  • Characterization of surface properties and particle size distributions
  • Characterization of the adsorption properties of the template used

Metal-organic frameworks

© Fraunhofer ICT
© Fraunhofer ICT
© Fraunhofer ICT

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) form a new class of microporous materials that are characterized by extremely large specific pore volumes (up to 3.60 cm3/g) and large specific surfaces (> 7000 m2/g) that substantially exceed those of established porous materials like silicates or activated carbon.

Structure

MOFs are composed of metallic clusters such as Zn, Cu, Fe and Zr, connected by organic linkers (e. g. terephthalate, imidazolate). They offer an infinite array of compositional possibilities, generating a wide variety of MOF substances with very different properties. MOF materials can therefore be used in very different areas of application, in particular gas storage, separation techniques, sensor development, drug delivery, environmental restoration and catalysis.

Synthesis and scale-up

Fraunhofer ICT carries out applied and industry-oriented research in the area of metal-organic frameworks. Emphasis is placed on economical synthesis routes for MOF compounds and their scale-up to the kilogram range, which forms the basis for future product developments. Synthesis protocols originally obtained through fundamental research are further optimized on the basis of reaction engineering concepts. The major goal is to simplify the synthesis processes and significantly reduce their costs. Here, questions pertaining to the economical use of resources and energy, waste reduction, product quality, space/time yield, safety and future up-scaling play an important role.

Fraunhofer ICT uses screening procedures that are conducted either continuously or batch-wise in parallel reactor set-ups, in order to identify promising synthesis routes at a very early stage during the exploration of new MOF materials. Modern analytical methods are available for characterizing the synthesis products, in particular the structure, specific surface, adsorption behavior and chemical and thermal stability of the porous materials.

MOF applications

The main research priorities at Fraunhofer ICT are currently product developments in the areas of reactive gas storage, selective sensing of hazardous substances and liquid-phase catalysis using MOFs. Starting with MOF substances known from literature we develop strategies to optimize functionality, for instance by modifying linker molecules or by post-functionalization of the entire MOF compound. As part of a strategic partnership with five other Fraunhofer institutes (Fraunhofer IWS, IKTS, IGB, ISE, and UMSICHT), further MOF applications in the areas of gas storage, heat storage, gas separation and sensor technology are explored. In addition, processes for the shaping and manufacturing of MOF semi-finished products as well as new characterization techniques are currently being developed.

Our offer

  • We provide our customers and project partners with rapid and comprehensive access to the diverse applications of metal-organic frameworks.
  • We offer a broad range of R&D services ranging from feasibility studies and expertise to product and process developments.
  • We develop, analyze and optimize MOF syntheses and MOF processes for customer-specific tasks in all areas from the laboratory to production scale.

Project REMEDIA

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis (CF) are two very debilitating non-communicable diseases that are of particular interest to consider in parallel in a human exposome study. Their roots are opposite COPD is currently considered to be mainly related to the external exposome, while factors outside of the exposome play a major role in CF. However, COPD and CF share common characteristics such as high phenotypic variability of unknown origin, which prevents good therapeutic efficacy. It is therefore clear that the overall picture must be supplemented by taking into account additional components of the exposome than those currently considered in COPD and CF. Thus, the overall objective of the REMEDIA project is to extend the understanding of the contribution of the exposome, taken as a complex set of different components, to COPD and CF diseases. We will exploit data from existing cohorts and population registries in order to create a unified global database gathering phenotype and exposome info; we will develop a flexible individual sensor device combining environmental and biomarker toolkits; and use a versatile atmospheric simulation chamber to simulate the health effects of complex exposomes. We will use machine learning supervised analyses and causal inference models to identify relevant risk factors; and econometric and cost-effectiveness models to assess the costs, performance and cost-effectiveness of a selection of prevention strategies. The results will be used to develop guidelines to better predict disease risks and constitute the elements of the REMEDIA toolbox. Deciphering the impact of environmental components throughout life on the phenotypic variability of COPD and CF could represent a major breakthrough in reducing morbidity and mortality associated with these two noncurable diseases and would lead to the identification of modifiable risk factors on which preventive action could be implemented.