Material for the Liquid-Phase Separation of Isomers of Industrial Importance

Physical Sciences : Materials and Compounds

Available for licensing


  • Simon Humphrey, Ph.D. , Chemistry

Background/unmet need

A number of porous coordination polymers (PCPs) have been shown to possess the ability to effectively separate complex mixtures of gases and (less commonly) mixtures of liquid hydrocarbons. The latter represents a tangible application for such materials, especially to achieve separations that cannot be easily performed using common large-scale separation methods (e.g., column chromatography, ion exchange, or fractional distillation).

One such example concerns the separation of aromatic isomers of industrial importance, such as divinylbenzene (DVB) and para-xylene (PX): from an industrial standpoint, pure p-DVB and PX are the most preferred monomers for a variety of specialty chemical applications, such as ion exchange resin and polyester. However, large-scale separation approaches have proven to be inefficient in purification yield and/or energy consumptions.

Invention Description

A research team in the Chemistry Department at The University of Texas at Austin, led by Prof. Simon Humphrey, has discovered an inexpensive and robust aqueous process utilizing a uniquely designed PCP for the separation of such isomers. A new Mg(II)-based version of the porous coordination polymer with 1-D pore structure was prepared by a continuous-flow microwave synthesis process at benign conditions. This Mg-PCP is moisture-stable and thermally stable up to 500°C and shows unusual reversible soft-crystal behaviour: dehydrated single crystals of the material selectively adsorb a range of organic molecules, which crystallize inside the pores at ambient temperature and pressure. p-DVB or PX is almost exclusively adsorbed and crystallized from a mixture of isomers and other reaction byproducts.


  • Fast synthesis using cheap, non-toxic, abundant raw materials
  • Environmentally benign synthesis by continuous-flow microwave-assisted aqueous process
  • Isomer separation technology could significantly reduce the cost and improve efficiency of current production processes


  • Cheap, non-toxic and light starting materials
  • Efficient continuous-flow microwave synthesis process
  • Solvent-free manufacturing process
  • Efficient and low-energy (room temperature) isomer separation technology

Market potential/applications

Basic and specialty polymer industry: PX is a $50B global industry used in production of textile (PE) and packaging (PET), while p-DVB is widely used in adhesives, ion-exchange resin, specialty plastics, and elastomers.

Development Stage

Lab/bench prototype

IP Status

  • 1 U.S. patent application filed