Scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois have developed a hydrogel integrated with zirconium-based robust metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) that rapidly degrades organophosphate-based nerve agents used in chemical warfare. Unlike existing powdered MOF adsorbents, this hydrogel composite does not require added water and may be easily scaled up for use in protective masks or clothing. The work appears July 14 in the journal Chem Catalysis.
“Organophosphate-based nerve agents are among the most toxic chemicals known to humanity,” says senior author Omar Farha, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University. “Their use in recent global conflicts reflects the urgent need for personal protective gear, as well as the bulk destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles. In this work, we integrate MOFs and amine-containing cross-linked hydrogel into cloth to build a proper microenvironment to facilitate the fast degradation of nerve agents and supply real-time protection.”
While MOFs have previously demonstrated an exceptionally fast ability to break down organophosphorus agents and chemicals that simulate them in the lab, these powdered adsorbents have proven difficult to directly integrate into protective cloths. When the nerve agents bind to their zirconium-6 clusters, they often deactivate the powder and fibrous composite catalysts. This pitfall calls for the use of alkaline solutions to regenerate the MOFs’ catalytic sites — a requirement that does not prevent such MOFs from being used to eliminate stockpiled chemical weapons but which does impede their use in wearable protective gear.