Control of zeolite framework flexibility and pore topology for separation of ethane and ethylene

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The discovery of new materials for separating ethylene from ethane by adsorption, instead of using cryogenic distillation, is a key milestone for molecular separations because of the multiple and widely extended uses of these molecules in industry. This technique has the potential to provide tremendous energy savings when compared with the currently used cryogenic distillation process for ethylene produced through steam cracking. Here we describe the synthesis and structural determination of a flexible pure silica zeolite (ITQ-55). This material can kinetically separate ethylene from ethane with an unprecedented selectivity of ~100, owing to its distinctive pore topology with large heart-shaped cages and framework flexibility. Control of such properties extends the boundaries for applicability of zeolites to challenging separations.

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