Coordination Chemistry for Energy and Our Sustainable Futures (ChemEnSus)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Chemistry


This high-impact, challenging proposal brings together innovative ideas in coordination chemistry within a single inter and multidisciplinary project to open up new horizons across molecular, nanoscale and materials science. Our VISION is to apply coordination chemistry to the design and preparation of new multi-functional porous materials to deliver fundamental scientific and technological advances, and provide innovative solutions to one of the key issues of the 21st Century, that of clean, renewable energy. This will be achieved by creating paradigm shifts in the control of chemical hierarchy and interactions within the confined and multi-functionalized space generated by designed porous metal-organic framework (MOF) materials. Our STRATEGY is thus to develop a world-leading, overarching and fundamental research program with critical mass across complementary areas of physical sciences and engineering through the expertise and collaboration of six research groups. We target inter-related studies on i. porosity in the solid state in self-assembled hybrid materials for gas and volatile organic compound (voc) storage, sequestration and reactivity; ii. porosity in membranes for gas separations and purification for fuel cell applications; and iii. porosity at surfaces for sensing devices and applications. After 5 years we will deliver high capacity hydrogen storage materials that function at ambient temperatures. This will overcome a current major technological barrier unlocking the potential of hydrogen as a viable, clean replacement for fossil fuels and enabling the Hydrogen Economy to become a reality. The impact and significance of such ground-breaking advances will be huge. Our need and reliance upon fossil fuels for transport would be slashed and a new clean energy vector based on the hydrogen fuel cell with zero carbon emissions at the point of use would be achieved. However, fuel cells are notoriously sensitive to gas purity, and thus, in order to realise our overall ambition, we must also understand how hydrogen and other contaminant/competitor substrates, such as other gases, water and vocs from biomass and water electrolysis, interact, bind and are sensed within hybrid materials. Thus, issues of removal, purification, transport and sensing of hydrogen and its contaminants represent fundamental scientific and technological challenges that go hand-in-hand with the huge challenge of hydrogen storage. Programme Grant funding will support the scientific, intellectual and technological inter-dependence of the cross-disciplinary research strands of synthesis, characterisation, storage, purification and sensing. It will support the necessary coordinated and interactive effort to undertake fundamental studies and analysis of how assembled porosity behaves and how it can be controlled at different regime levels, at the micro-, meso- and macro- levels. Four inter-linked research THEMES are identified within the programme: 1. Core fundamental science: synthesis, assembly, modelling and characterisation; 2. Properties and function: gas and voc uptake, selectivity and reactivity; 3 Gas sieving, fuel cell membranes, theory, analysis and multi-scale modelling; 4. Surface templating and sensing devices.The programme of work demands the managerial and financial flexibility and freedom that consolidated funding brings in order to deliver transformative and disruptive research. The training of 10 PDRA- and 15 PhD-level scientists for future employment in the UK will be delivered in an exciting, stimulating and curiosity-driven environment. This will be interlinked to appropriate and extensive knowledge transfer and outreach activities to maximise the impact of research outputs. The application is underpinned by significant funding of 24.2M in current research income held by the PI and CIs, and by 4.57M of matched funding reflecting the unequivocal support of the host institutions for this proposal.

Planned Impact

The proposed research will have major impacts across academe, industry, commercial and financial sectors, national and international governmental agencies, and will have great relevance to societal issues. In terms of Knowledge, highly significant scientific advances in the generation and understanding of new polyfunctional materials, techniques and analysis will be produced via an innovative and transformative programme of research. In terms of People, new highly-skilled early-career scientists (10 PDRAs and 15 PhD students) will be trained across physical sciences and engineering, and will be available for employment across the UK economy. The research will in the medium to longer term contribute to the Economy via the development of a range of new energy and sustainable technologies which will contribute directly to wealth creation via new products, processes and procedures. In due course, new companies of direct importance to Society in terms of improved quality of life, international development and policy will be established based upon the principles of the new green technologies and the programme of sustainability developed in ChemEnSus. The quality of life of the UK and world populations will be enhanced though the positive impacts of this research on the mobility and security of energy, populations, climate, environment and economies. Short-term beneficiaries of the research will be academics working across physical sciences and engineering, and specifically in the multi-disciplinary areas of materials, energy, carbon capture, nanosciences, the hydrogen economy, fuel cells, electrochemistry, theory, modelling and structure determination. The proposal has a strong short-term impact by imparting a unique combination of skills to early-career scientists that can be imported to solve other key problems within the physical sciences. The project will train scientists to enhance the necessary skills-base of the UK in important and timely areas relating to energy and sustainability. The research team is already engaged with several key industries and with SMEs in the region (see Letters of Support), who will benefit through wealth creation, which will increase the economic competitiveness for UK companies and the UK in general. The University of Nottingham will benefit through a strengthening of existing and development of new research relationships with external companies, and the income that patented successful devices and materials will bring. The presence of the Business Partnership Unit (BPU) (Director: Dr Trevor Farren) within the School of Chemistry, Nottingham guarantees that any generated IP will be professionally and competently exploited. A Business Science Fellow (BSF) and the Project Manager, both embedded within the BPU, will work closely with the PI and CIs to ensure that the project will be managed to engage users and beneficiaries, and maximise impacts. All opportunities to spin-out the inventions and discoveries will be taken. Exploitation of the outputs of research during and after the lifetime of the grant will be indentified via discussion within the Programme consortium, with the BPU, the host Universities and/or the relevant industry, as appropriate. Public engagement and outreach, including presentations and experiments at public events, in schools and colleges will be managed by the BSF with Dr Samantha Tang, full-time Public Awareness Scientist. The research has high applicability to the priority areas and especially the Grand Challenges of Research Councils and Governmental Agencies within the UK and across the world. The research will inform stakeholders, funding agencies and policy makers especially in the areas of energy and sustainable development. We will be advocates in the strongest possible terms for the contributions that the Physical Sciences can make in these areas.


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Kimberley L (2021) The Origin of Catalytic Benzylic C-H Oxidation over a Redox-Active Metal-Organic Framework. in Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English)

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Korolkov VV (2017) Supramolecular networks stabilise and functionalise black phosphorus. in Nature communications

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Laybourn A (2017) Metal-organic frameworks in seconds via selective microwave heating in Journal of Materials Chemistry A

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/I011870/1 08/06/2011 30/08/2015 £4,157,587
EP/I011870/2 Transfer EP/I011870/1 31/08/2015 31/12/2016 £1,229,894
Description We have prepared a range of new metal organic framework materials that show permanent porosity. These materials have been designed, prepared and fully characterised by the Manchester team and show selective binding and separations of CO2, SO2, and C2 hydrocarbons. We have also elucidated the mode of action at a molecular level by confirming the binding sites in this host-guest chemistry by in situ diffraction and scattering experiments.
Exploitation Route We have prepared a range of functional materials which other groups will study for applications in a variety of scenarios.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment

Description We have been approached by 17 companies interested in our carbon capture MOFs. We have secured further funding to develop the commercialisation of these materials and work is ongoing in this area. Our reseach has stimulated considerable media interest and has been widely disseminated to the public through articles that featured on BBC website and radio. We have won funding via an ERC Advanced Grant and a Russian Mega Grant in collaboration with the Russian Academy of Sciences. We are now seeking to commercialise our materials for use in clean air technologies to remove toxic and polluting gases. We have prepared a series of porous metal organic framework materials that are now being commercilaised by the Wanyin Company in China. These materials selectively capture NO2 and SO2 from air, are water stable and show good capacity for storage of these corrosive and toxic gases. Recent work on ammonia storage has also been highlighted to several companies, and systems that can catalytically or photo-catalytically reduce CO2 to HCOOH are being investigated with BP.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Chemicals,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic