IMAP’s Research Director Christian Serre discusses the institute’s research activities in the areas of health, energy, and the environment, and some of the different areas relevant to this work, including applications and new materials, specifically synthesising and characterising Metal Organic Frameworks.
The Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) in Paris, France, which lies at the heart of the Latin Quartier, offers excellent training through research. The ENS also defines and applies scientific and technological research policies, from a multidisciplinary and international perspective.
Similarly, the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de Paris (ESPCI), a physics and chemistry engineer school located close to ENS also has an excellent reputation for not only fundamental research but also applied research.
Chemistry has always been part of the ENS research landscape, and it has intense activities in basic and applied research. Louis Pasteur, Henry Sainte Claire Deville, Gustave Vavon, Georges Dupont, Marc Julia, Guy Ourisson are all famous examples of ENS alumni. ‘The director of ESPCI, P G De Gennes, was awarded the Physics Nobel Prize in 1991. ESPCI was also where, more than a century ago, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered Radium.
Within ENS’s chemistry department and ESPCI, the Institute of Porous MAterials of Paris (IMAP) is a newly created research team dedicated to the synthesis (from the discovery to the scale-up and shaping) and characterisation (structural, physico-chemical) of functional porous solids, mainly Metal Organic Frameworks, and their applications in health, energy, and the environment. The group is located at the core of Paris, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de Paris within the frame of the Paris Research University (PSL).
Here, IMAP director Christian Serre discusses the institute’s research activities in these areas and some of the different areas relevant to this work, including applications and new materials.
Controlling the adsorption of water in porous solids for energy related applications presents numerous challenges. How are you working to overcome the hurdles present in areas such as heat reallocation, fuel cells etc.?
We develop new porous hybrid solids not only with a large water adsorption capacity and a very high stability under humid conditions, but also with a tunable hydrophilic character. This is particularly important since each ‘heat reallocation application’ (such as heat pumps, chillers, refrigeration and so on) requires rather different operating conditions (e.g. temperature, humidity rate, kinetics). We shall also consider at a very early stage the cost, scalability and shaping under green conditions of these materials.
What are the most promising biomedical applications of biodegradable surface engineered porous solids? Where do your own research priorities lie here?
If this deals with in vivo applications, then the engineered porous solids should first be highly biocompatible. This means that it is important to consider here only those biodegradable materials that are built up from friendly metals and ligands and ideally produced under green, non-toxic conditions.
In practice, iron, calcium or magnesium based Metal Organic Framework materials and eventually zinc or titanium based MOFs, depending on each administration route (intravenous, oral, and so on), shall be considered. If one looks, however, at in vitro applications such as diagnosis, one can also consider the use of less biocompatible solids.
Our current research in biomedicine focuses quasi-exclusively on highly biocompatible iron carboxylate-based MOFs.
Carbon capture stands to benefit significantly from the development of new small pore materials. What are your thoughts on materials such as starbons for this? What other promising materials would you like to see being focused on moving forwards?
New small pore materials are just one solution among several others for CO2 capture. One limitation of these solids, however, could be a lower diffusivity of the CO2 into narrow pores.
The best narrow pore Metal Organic Frameworks reported so far bear a lot of promise for this application (post-combustion); however most of these solids have only been tested to date under model conditions. There are thus still questionable about whether these materials can withstand corrosive contaminants such as sulphur oxide (SOx), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and/or still be efficient under the humid conditions that are present in real conditions. This is not to mention the need to produce these solids, if CO2 capture tests have been successful in the lab, at very large scale as shaped materials. Developing new materials which are able efficient under real conditions and to produce them with the same quality at large scale are some of our current challenges.
What are your thoughts on graphene and its potential applications in areas such as heath, energy and the environment? Could more be done to exploit Metal Organic Frameworks containing graphene?
Graphene and more generally 2D materials are outstanding solids to propose new ‘out of the box’ solutions for applications of a strong societal interest. Their highly tuneable quasi-unique physical properties, their processability and the possibility to easily combine them with other classes of materials with complementary properties opens tremendous new avenues in materials science.
MOFs containing graphene oxide (GO) nanosheets have been proposed recently; so far this strategy was exploited mostly to increase the porosity of the MOF (or the ‘GO’). One current challenge is to find new synergies between these two classes of fascinating materials, particularly to exploit the physical properties of the GO with the selective sorption or catalytic properties of the MOFs. This will also require a much better understanding of the MOF-GO interface through advanced characterisation and modelling techniques.
Moving forwards, where will your research interests lie? How useful is EU-level funding to your activities?
Our first priority deals with the exploration of new MOF chemistries to propose new generations of functional Metal Organic Frameworks to tackle important challenges in health (such as drug delivery, nanobiodetection, and others), energy (including fuel cells and batteries) and the environment (such as the capture/sensing of pollutants/toxic molecules, CO2 reduction, and so on).
Then, in parallel to the evaluation of their properties, we are working actively to push towards the integration of the most promising Metal Organic Frameworks (or MOFs composites) into translational research at higher TRL levels (this includes membranes, devices, scaling-up, and shaping).
We regularly apply for EU funding, either for fundamental projects (via the European Research Council (ERC) or the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions) or applied research (for demonstration). Currently, we are part of the Horizon 2020 Gramofon (for CO2 capture) and Nemosine (for the preservation of cultural heritage) projects.
Dr Christian Serre
CNRS Director of Research
+33 1442 322463
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