Porous metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) [Cu3(BTC)2(H2O)3]n (also known as HKUST-1; BTC, benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxylic acid) were synthesized as homogeneous shell onto carboxyl functionalized magnetic microparticles through a liquid phase epitaxy (LPE) process. The as-synthesized core–shell HKUST-1 magnetic microparticles composites were characterized by XRD and SEM, and used as stationary phase in high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).
The effects of the unique properties of MOFs onto the chromatographic performance are demonstrated by the experiments. First, remarkable separation of pyridine and bipyridine is achieved, although both molecules show a strong interaction between the Cu-ions in HKUST-1 and the nitrogen atoms in their heterocyles. The difference can be explained due to size exclusion of bipyridine from the well defined pore structure of crystalline HKUST-1.
Second, the enormous variety of possible interactions of sample molecules with the metal ions and linkers within MOFs allows for specifically tailored solid phases for challenging separation tasks. For example, baseline separation of three chloroaniline (CLA) isomers tested can be achieved without the need for gradient elution modes. Along with the experimental HPLC runs, in-depth modelling with a recently developed chromatography modelling software (ChromX) was applied and proofs the software to be a powerful tool for exploring the separation potential of thin MOF films.
The pore diffusivity of pyridine and CLA isomers within HKUST-1 are found to be around 2.3 × 10−15 m2 s−1. While the affinity of HKUST-1 to the tested molecules strongly differs, the maximum capacities are in the same range, with 0.37 mol L−1 for pyridine and 0.23 mol L−1 for CLA isomers, corresponding to 4.0 and 2.5 molecules per MOF unit cell, respectively.