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Porous Organic Polymers Tackle Toxic Pollutants

Incorporating an aluminum porphyrin into a porous polymer, combined with supercritical CO2 processing, creates a catalytic material for degrading toxic compounds

by Stephen K. Ritter
August 5, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 31

By stitching a cyclic aluminum complex into the framework of a porous organic polymer, called a POP, researchers have created a highly catalytic, recyclable material designed to break down toxic pollutants into innocuous products. The secret to the material’s success is additional processing with supercritical carbon dioxide (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, DOI: 10.1021/ja405495u). A team of Northwestern University chemists led by Omar K. Farha, Joseph T. Hupp, and SonBinh T. Nguyen used a cobalt-catalyzed cross-coupling polymerization method to link terminal alkyne units on an aluminum porphyrin ring with alkyne units on a tetraphenylmethane building block. The researchers then treated the porphyrin-derived porous organic polymer—a PPOP—with supercritical CO2 to fluff up the flexible framework material and enhance its total porosity. The treatment, in contrast to the vacuum-heating activation process normally carried out for porous materials such as POPs and zeolites, increased the catalytic activity of the material by nearly an order of magnitude. The researchers successfully tested the material by oxidizing an organic phosphate nerve agent simulant, but they assume PPOPs will be effective against other toxic industrial chemicals, especially as part of an air filter in protective masks.


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