Molecular simulation studies of metal organic frameworks focusing on hydrogen purification
Banu, Ana Maria
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The process of purifying hydrogen gas using pressure swing adsorption columns heavily relies on highly efficient adsorbents. Such materials must be able to selectively adsorb a large amount of impurities, and must also be regenerated with ease. The work presented in this thesis focuses on a novel class of porous solids, metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), and their potential for use as adsorbents in hydrogen purification processes. MOFs are tuneable structures, a property that can be exploited in order to achieve the desired characteristics that are beneficial for a specific application. The design or selection of MOFs for any separation process however, relies on a thorough understanding of the relationship between a framework’s characteristics and its adsorption and selective properties. In order to identify favourable MOF characteristics for the separation of hydrogen from typical impurities a systematic molecular simulation study is performed on a large group of MOFs. Features such as the presence of short linkers, amine groups and additional aromatic rings, and a high density of linker groups are found to increase the adsorbate - framework interaction strength, and reduce the free volume available inside the pores. Both of these effects are shown to enhance MOF selectivity for impurities. Two promising materials, exhibiting desirable features, Mn MIL-53 and MIL-47, are studied further through a variety of approaches. A combination of experimental work and molecular simulations are employed in order to assess the level of flexibility in Mn MIL-53 on uptake of CO2 and CH4. An investigation of the experimental and simulation adsorption and characterization data indicates that the framework undergoes structural changes, in order to accommodate CO2 molecules, but not CH4. The form of the framework during CO2 uptake is also shown to be strongly influenced by temperature. In the case of MIL-47, adsorption isotherms simulated for a wide range of gases overpredict experimental adsorption data, leading to an in-depth investigation of non-porous effects, force field suitability, and framework rigidity. Ab initio molecular dynamics studies of MIL-47 indicate that the benzene dicarboxylate linkers rotate about their symmetry axis to reach more energetically favourable configurations, an effect responsible for the discrepancies between simulated and experimental isotherms. The effect of MOF flexibility on adsorption is further highlighted in a study of Sc2BDC3, a material able to undergo structural changes in order to accommodate a variety of adsorbates. Molecular simulations show that structural changes in the framework are responsible for the creation of additional CO2 adsorption sites as pressure is increased, whereas methanol adsorption sites occupied at extreme pressure are stabilized by the formation of hydrogen bonds. Finally, the exceptionally robust UiO-66(Zr) and UiO-67(Zr) families of MOFs are analysed using a multi-scale simulation study combining molecular level and process-scale computational work, seeking to compare the materials to commercial adsorbents, and assess whether they are suitable for H2 purification through pressure swing adsorption (PSA). Of the four MOFs studied, UiO-66(Zr)-Br is the most promising, as it significantly outperforms commercial zeolites and activated carbons in H2 purification from steam methane reformer offgas.