A BREAKTHROUGH PLATFORM TECHNOLOGY

Technology

inside immaterial

Find out what makes Immaterial special, from front-end materials design for optimum performance in your application, to revolutionary formation capabilities that enable our materials to break global performance records.

Metal-organic frameworks: create optimised performance through a modular and tailorable architecture.

Thousands of materials: find the right one for your application using state of the art computational screening.

Engineering models explore how our materials integrate with your process to impact system-level performance.

Our unique formation technology enables us to build materials with a step-change in performance.

A new platform for cost-effective and fully recoverable heterogeneous catalyst development.

A high-loading, uniquely tailorable, and biocompatible platform for targeted and slow-release drug delivery.

Metal-organic frameworks

A versatile class of porous materials

It is a well-known phenomenon that molecules of gas, liquid, or even dissolved solid will adhere to solid surfaces. This process is known as adsorption, and with the right surface and enough surface area, its effects can be dramatic. MOFs are porous coordination polymers; the right components mixed together will self-assemble into a regular lattice structure with metal ions on each corner and organic linkers on each edge. They are modular, because both the metal and the linker can be switched out for hundreds of alternatives, and they have the largest surface area of any known material – up to 8,000 square metres per gram. 

This means we can choose or even design MOFs to have very specific pore sizes, surface chemistries, and a wide range of other physical properties depending on what is needed. This versatility makes them ideal solutions to a very wide range of industrial challenges. By choosing a MOF with a high affinity for a certain molecule, we can extract it from a mixture without distillation, or store a gas at a fraction of the pressure that simple compression would need. The potential uses of this technology are extremely wide-ranging, from filtering trace amounts of an impurity to industrial separations; from pulling a vacuum near absolute zero to storing bulk gases for shipping.

Find out how we turn a new application into reality

Molecular simulations

State-of-the-art computing technology

Tens of thousands of materials: finding the right one.

The modularity of MOFs provides a colossal design space to work with, offering a flexibility far exceeding traditional porous materials like activated carbons and zeolites. This means that for almost any storage or separation process, a MOF likely exists (or can be designed) to do it efficiently. Determining which materials will work used to involve lengthy lab trials and a healthy amount of guesswork. More recently, molecular simulations have become accurate enough to take over, and the University of Cambridge have pioneered this technique. We use these screens to address a ‘problem statement’ provided by a customer: addressing a challenge such as how best to separate a particular gas from a mixture under given conditions. Once we have identified a shortlist of candidates, the favoured material can be chosen based on a combination of predicted performance and relevant properties not covered in the screen, such as chemical stability, hardness, or ease of synthesis.

Process simulations

modelling the production and use of porous materials

What makes a material “best” for a given use-case? Superior capacity? Better selectivity? Ease of regeneration? Undoubtedly all of the above come into play, but when coming up against fundamental trade-offs, choosing the right material means understanding how it will be used. From back-of-the-envelope mass transfer calculations to estimate material quantities through to full dynamic simulation, process design and performance optimisation, our team offer a breadth of experience in separations, scale-up and computer modelling, and can work with your in-house team or independently. Our process simulations are built in tandem with our molecular models, allowing a truly unique computational solution to be developed for your challenge. 

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Monolithic formulation

Our pelletisation technology

Pure MOF pellets. No binders. No compaction. No loss of performance.

MOFs were first discovered over three decades ago. Since then, the number of materials identified has climbed from a handful to over 90,000, and the academic field has rushed forwards at an ever-accelerating pace. Improvements in performance, stability, and specificity are put forwards year after year, and researchers continue to propose and demonstrate new applications for the technology. So why aren’t MOFs more widely used? Arguably the biggest reason is that MOFs almost always form as micron-scale powders. Regardless of whether you want a storage cylinder, a separation column, or a fluidised bed reactor, powders are a pretty poor choice, creating massive pressure drops, clogging valves, and escaping downstream. 

MOFs, then, need to be pelletised for most applications, but traditional methods produce pellets that are poorly packed and with a lot of the mass occupied by the binder. Often, the drop in performance this caused made it no longer worth it to use the materials at all. Our breakthrough came in 2014, when we learned how to synthesise MOFs not as powders but ‘monoliths’ of up to a cm in size. The material is better packed and without wasted weight, meaning we see leaps in both volumetric and gravimetric performance – often by over 100%. By overcoming this ‘pelletisation problem’ we unlock a huge back-catalogue of research spanning thirty years. We go further by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Methane storage: read how we doubled it

Catalysis

using MOFs to speed up reactions

Huge usable surfaces, tailorable functionality, fully recoverable.

The catalytic potential of MOFs is not a new idea. Their modular nature means catalytic ligands can be chosen quite easily, and defects in the pore structure can also be engineered to act in a certain way on a substrate. Couple this with their colossal surface areas and it’s easy to see why they’re a powerful tool in any chemist’s arsenal. As well as being versatile heterogenous catalysts, they also work well as supports for other nanoparticles, where the MOF structure is grown around the guest particles.

This ‘cage’ now holds it in place, but retains almost all of the catalytic activity. This can be used to concentrate the substrate, hold multiple catalysts close together for concurrent reactions, and prevent leeching and loss of valuable catalysts. Despite the breadth of possibilities, ultimately the ability of a MOF to do any of this hits up against the same issues faced in other applications: a fine powder is easily lost from a reactor. A monolith changes that.

Cleaning water with optically-active monoliths

Drug delivery

API encapsulation for targeted therapeutics

Protecting unstable therapeutic agents and concentrating them where they’re needed.

We can store active pharmaceutical ingredients inside MOFs. Biocompatible MOF nanoparticles that slowly dissolve can protect short-lived drugs, releasing them over a period of hours or days as required. This provides more consistent levels in the body and avoids side effects caused by the burst in concentration right after a dose. Tag the MOF with the right marker, and you can also localise it to the right tissue or even organelle.

Drug delivery systems are a rapidly growing area of pharmaceutical research. As yet, few systems can offer the combination of exceptionally high loading and freedom to tailor the carrier to the needs of the drug that MOFs have demonstrated in vitro.  This remains a new but extremely exciting avenue of enquiry. We have created a spin out company, Vector Bioscience Ltd, to develop this use-case.

We have successfully achieved gene knockdown with a MOF-encapsulated siRNA molecule. We are continuing to develop this technology for hard-to-treat cancers as part of an ERC project with the University of Cambridge. This is a platform technology that can be tailored for any API.  If you have an API that would benefit from targeted or slow release, read more and get in touch.

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