University of Manchester research captures and separates important toxic air pollutant

Led by scientists at The University of Manchester, a series of new stable, porous materials that capture and separate benzene have been developed. Benzene is a volatile organic compound (VOC) and is an important feedstock for the production of many fine chemicals, including cyclohexane. 

The research published today, demonstrates the high adsorption of benzene at low pressures and concentrations, as well as the efficient separation of benzene and cyclohexane. This was achieved by the design and successful preparation of two families of stable metal-organic framework (MOF) materials, named UiO-66 and MFM-300. These highly porous materials are made from metal nodes bridged by functionalised organic molecules that act as struts to form 3‑dimensional lattices incorporating empty channels into which volatile compounds can enter.

VOCs such as benzene are common indoor air pollutants, showing increasing emissions from anthropogenic activities and causing many environmental problems. They are also linked with millions of premature deaths each year. Benzene is one of the most toxic VOCs, and is classified by the World Health Organization as a Group 1 carcinogen to humans.

Professor Martin Schröder, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

The really exciting thing about these materials is that they allow us not only to capture and remove benzene from the air, but also to separate benzene from cyclohexane, which is an important industrial product often prepared from benzene.