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Molecular precision for betterment of humanity

Prof. Omar Yaghi’s keynote at Lund Symposium 2024

At the ‘On Human Origins and the Future of Humanity’ symposium held in Lund, Sweden, Prof. Omar Yaghi, founder of Atoco and the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry at UC Berkeley, shared the stage on April 19th with notable keynote speakers, including seven Nobel laureates. His enlightening presentation, titled “Molecular Precision for Betterment of Humanity,” delved into the field of reticular chemistry, which he pioneered, and discussed its transformative potential for addressing critical global challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

Reticular Chemistry: A Gateway to Sustainable Solutions

Prof. Yaghi began his presentation by outlining the essence of reticular chemistry, a field that enables the precise design of ultra-porous materials with potential applications in environmental sustainability. “Reticular chemistry enables precise design of ultra porous materials that can offer real solutions to the challenges that we and the planet face” Prof. Yaghi stated, highlighting the significance of this innovative science in tackling global issues.


Reticular chemistry involves stitching molecules together to form extended frameworks with pores fine-tuned at the molecular level. These frameworks, known as Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) or Covalent Organic Frameworks (COFs), are characterized by their vast internal surface areas and the ability to modify their chemical functionality to suit specific tasks, such as capturing carbon dioxide or harvesting water molecules from the air.


Prof. Yaghi shared the origins of his fascination with chemistry, which began in childhood. He recounted, “I went into science because I saw things like this when I was ten years old and I was captivated” referring to his early encounters with molecular structures. This curiosity evolved into a career that focuses not just on understanding these structures but also on applying this knowledge to develop solutions for some of humanity’s most pressing problems.


The materials designed using reticular chemistry are not only robust but also regenerative, offering the potential for repeated use without loss of efficacy. This is particularly important for applications such as carbon capture, where materials need to perform under a wide range of environmental conditions and be recyclable. Prof. Yaghi emphasized the adaptability and durability of these materials, noting, “We are developing materials that are going to trap CO2 from flue gas so that it doesn’t reach the atmosphere or even take CO2 out of the atmosphere and use the same material over and over again for years.”

Impact on Carbon Capture and Water Harvesting

Prof. Yaghi delved deeper into the specific applications of reticular chemistry, particularly in carbon capture and water harvesting—two critical areas where Atoco is actively applying these technologies. The ability of MOFs to selectively adsorb and store specific molecules makes them ideal for removing carbon dioxide from industrial emissions and the atmosphere, a key factor in combating climate change.


Carbon capture technology based on MOFs can significantly reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere, effectively slowing the impact of global warming. Prof Yaghi explained why these materials are “ideally suited to be at least a platform onto which we can bind CO2”. Indeed, these frameworks can selectively pull CO2 out of the air, even at the low concentrations found in the atmosphere, which is critical for making a meaningful impact on global carbon levels.


The potential of these materials extends beyond carbon capture to addressing global water scarcity through water harvesting. MOFs can extract water vapor from arid air and condense it into liquid water, a technology that could revolutionize water supply in drought-prone regions. Prof. Yaghi described an experiment where MOFs successfully harvested water directly from the air of the Death Valley desert without using electricity, highlighting the practical implications of this off-grid water harvesting technology. A concept that he describes as “rain in the box”, mimicking natural rain but within a controlled environment.

The Future of Reticular Chemistry

Looking towards the future, Prof. Yaghi discussed the potential of integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning with reticular chemistry to accelerate the development of new materials and enhance their properties for specific applications. “Can we use AI to speed up this process? There’s no reason why we couldn’t” he speculated about the possibilities of using advanced technologies to refine the synthesis and deployment of reticular materials.


In what he calls the “Digital Innovation Cycle”, Prof Yaghi outlines the fusion of AI with molecular sciences that could lead to smarter, more efficient materials that are tailor-made for specific environmental and industrial tasks. This could significantly reduce the time and resources needed to develop new materials, making sustainable technologies more accessible and effective.


Prof. Omar Yaghi’s keynote at the Lund symposium highlighted the innovative reticular materials he pioneered, which Atoco now leverages to tackle global warming and water scarcity. His presentation outlined practical and sustainable strategies for the future.


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