An example of a metal-organic framework (MOF) assembled in Dr. Hongcai Joe Zhou's world-class laboratory within the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry and being commercialized by Texas-based startup framergy® Inc. These microporous materials have the highest internal surface area known to man and can be custom-manufactured to absorb almost any type of molecule.


Technology developed by Texas A&M University chemist Hongcai Joe Zhou with the help of a federal grant has earned national recognition for the Texas-based startup company working to commercialize it for a host of industry uses and impacts affecting energy and the environment.

In May, framergy® Inc. earned selection as a 2013 TechConnect National Innovation Award winner for its breakthrough single molecule trapping technology, perfected by Zhou at Texas A&M during the past two years as part of a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. Zhou, who joined the Department of Chemistry faculty in 2008 and earned his doctorate in chemistry from Texas A&M in 2000, has served since 2011 as the company's chief scientific advisor.

Each year the TechConnect Innovation Awards committee selects the top early-stage innovations from around the world. Rankings are based on the potential positive impact the technology will have on a specific industry sector. As one of about 80 winners, framergy was invited to showcase its award-winning technology as a selected oral presenter at the TechConnect National Innovation Summit & Showcase, held May 12-16 in Washington, D.C.

Single molecule traps are part of a group of substances called metal organic frameworks (MOF), which are micro-porous crystalline structures made up of metal ions as well as molecules that bind to metal ions called organic ligands and one of Zhou's specialties along with porous polymer networks (PPN). These materials are taking industrialists one step closer to mimicking nature's mechanisms at the molecular level and, in the process, removing key obstacles to energy and pollution reform.

Company officials note that the ongoing research has major implications for carbon capture, natural gas and other "cleantech" industries that are searching for cost-effective gas separation and storage technologies.

"We can now confine one molecule in a single cavity with strong binding sites," said J.M. Ornstein, framergy executive director. "Soon single molecule traps will be applied to applications such as small molecule capture, activation, conversion and storage -- wherever binding single guest molecules are a prerequisite."

Since the 1990s, MOFs have been touted by many as the future of eco-friendly technology that could pave the way for major improvements to natural gas usage for transportation and in the commercialization of hydrogen-powered vehicles. In their crystalline form, they appear to resemble nothing more than ordinary table salt. Looks, however, are deceiving, considering MOFs have the highest internal surface area known to man. Once unraveled, one sugar-cube-sized piece could cover an entire football field.

In addition to having exceptionally high porosity, Zhou says they are the most tunable material of any known substance. With just a tweak of their crystalline structure and surface properties, they become ideal for absorbing any type of different molecule, lending to their versatility in application.

"We can actually make these materials capture whatever substance that we're interested in -- natural gas, hydrogen and methane, pollutants, carbon dioxide, drug molecules and more," Zhou said.

Innovation Award nominations are submitted from academic technology transfer offices, early-stage companies, small business innovative research (SBIR) awardees, and government and corporate research laboratories. Awards are bestowed based on the potential positive impact the technology will have on a specific industry sector. The commercialization actions and success of awardees will be tracked by TechConnect to encourage continued funding program support and to assist in accelerating the commercialization of American innovation.

To learn more about Zhou and his related research, go to http://www.chem.tamu.edu/rgroup/zhou/research.html.

For more information on framergy, visit http://www.framergy.com.

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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $700 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://vpr.tamu.edu.

Watch this video to learn more about single molecule traps and framergy's related work:


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862 -1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Hongcai Joe Zhou, (979) 845-4034 or zhou@chem.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Hongcai Joe Zhou

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