Research ArticleChemistry

Exploiting equilibrium-kinetic synergetic effect for separation of ethylene and ethane in a microporous metal-organic framework

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Science Advances  10 Apr 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 15, eaaz4322
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz4322


Physisorption is a promising technology to cut cost for separating ethylene (C2H4) from ethane (C2H6), the most energy-intensive separation process in the petrochemical industry. However, traditional thermodynamically selective adsorbents exhibit limited C2H4/C2H6 selectivity due to their similar physiochemical properties, and the performance enhancement is typically at the expense of elevated adsorption heat. Here, we report highly-efficient C2H4/C2H6 adsorption separation in a phosphate-anion pillared metal-organic framework ZnAtzPO4 exploiting the equilibrium-kinetic synergetic effect. The periodically expanded and contracted aperture decorated with electronegative groups within ZnAtzPO4 enables effective trapping of C2H4 and impedes the diffusion of C2H6, offering an extraordinary equilibrium-kinetic combined selectivity of 32.4. The adsorption heat of C2H4 on ZnAtzPO4 (17.3 to 30.0 kJ mol−1) is substantially lower than many thermodynamically selective adsorbents because its separation capability only partially relies on thermodynamics. The separation mechanism was explored by computational simulations, and breakthrough experiments confirmed the excellent C2H4/C2H6 separation performance of ZnAtzPO4.

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