Control of zeolite pore interior for chemoselective alkyne/olefin separations

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Science  29 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6494, pp. 1002-1006
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay8447

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Zeolites that prefer alkynes

Alkenes such as ethylene and propene must be separated from alkynes before they can be converted in polymers. Drawbacks in current methods, such as hydrogenation of alkynes producing unwanted alkanes, has spurred interest in sorption separation methods. Zeolites have generally been inefficient, given the similar sizes and volatilities of the molecules. Chai et al. incorporated atomically dispersed divalent transition metal cations into faujasite zeolite and found that the nickel-containing analog efficiently removed alkynes from olefins through chemoselective binding at open nickel(II) sites. At ambient conditions in the presence of water and carbon dioxide, the zeolites retained separation selectivities of 100 and 92, respectively, for acetylene over ethylene and propyne over propylene for 10 adsorption-desorption cycles.

Science, this issue p. 1002


The efficient removal of alkyne impurities for the production of polymer-grade lower olefins remains an important and challenging goal for many industries. We report a strategy to control the pore interior of faujasite (FAU) zeolites by the confinement of isolated open nickel(II) sites in their six-membered rings. Under ambient conditions, Ni@FAU showed remarkable adsorption of alkynes and efficient separations of acetylene/ethylene, propyne/propylene, and butyne/1,3-butadiene mixtures, with unprecedented dynamic separation selectivities of 100, 92, and 83, respectively. In situ neutron diffraction and inelastic neutron scattering revealed that confined nickel(II) sites enabled chemoselective and reversible binding to acetylene through the formation of metastable [Ni(II)(C2H2)3] complexes. Control of the chemistry of pore interiors of easily scalable zeolites has unlocked their potential in challenging industrial separations.

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