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Founder, Prof. Omar Yaghi: “From Desert to Discovery: The Journey of Reticular Chemistry”

Author: Professor Omar Yaghi, Founder of Atoco

Growing up in the desert climate of Amman, Jordan, I know all too well how precious water is.
As a young boy, I was responsible for filling my home’s water tanks. I would need to fill the tanks with enough water for two-week periods while adhering to the water regulations instituted in our area. Everything in my house that used water, from drinking to livestock to cleaning, came from the tanks I stocked.
These circumstances made me steadily aware of my water consumption and quickly taught me that we were not the only population constantly dealing with water scarcity.

Discovering Molecular Science

As a child, when I was not filling water tanks, I spent much of my time reading. One day, I stumbled upon a book with molecular drawings. Looking at the images and reading about the molecules struck a chord deep within my soul—leading me to my passion for examining molecules. Later, I devoted my life to understanding how to stitch molecules together to make new compounds and, eventually, embarking on a career of discovery.


This led to my work in pioneering reticular chemistry: the research in material science and chemistry, focusing on the design, synthesis, and characterization of crystalline porous materials such as COFs (covalent organic frameworks) and MOFs (metal-organic frameworks).
There are now hundreds of international laboratories dedicated to reticular chemistry, and multiple governments and research institutions have recognized the disruptive climate change applications of these promising new classes of materials.

Harnessing Reticular Chemistry to Combat Climate Change

Reticular chemistry unlocks new solutions to address climate change, showcasing how to capture potable water from the air.

My research group demonstrated the first instance of this practice in the 2014 edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. We were able to clearly show MOF’s water uptake from low humidity. Based out of a field in Tempe, Arizona, we demonstrated in 2018 that a large device (1-kilogram scale) can extract significant amounts of water (1 cup per cycle) with no energy input aside from ambient sunlight.
The following year, we wanted to push the science further. In 2019, we demonstrated for the first time that a device equipped with solar panel power (based on 1 kilogram of MOF) can harvest one liter of water per day from the Mojave desert.


Our work continues today. In 2023, we showcased a small, portable, and totally passive prototype that harvests a small amount of water per day in the driest conditions in the world without any external energy input. However, this groundbreaking work in water harvesting only scratches the surface of the capabilities of MOFs and COFs.

MOFs and COFs: More Than Just Water Harvesting

We first measured MOFs’ ability to intake other substances, such as CO2, in 1998. In 2009, we showed that when MOFs are exposed to mixtures of CO2 and other gasses, they selectively bind to CO2. With this discovery, we were able to study molecules and their adsorption rates to maximize them to their fullest potential to begin taking CO2 from the air.
I knew this technology held the ability to transform climate change completely, and we have only taken this idea further since then.
In 2022, we built a large prototype device (1 kilogram) showing how MOFs can take up CO2 from the air and flue gas. Our novel solid-state carbon capture technology can efficiently capture carbon dioxide emissions post-combustion (PCC) and directly from the atmosphere (DAC).


I believe science, driven by creativity, powers climate change solutions. This conviction served as the driving force behind the creation of Atoco, to bring new solutions developed with atomic precision. Atoco is the culmination of a lifetime’s dedication to reticular chemistry, leveraging everything I have studied and learned throughout my career. Through Atoco, I’ve harnessed the field of chemistry I’ve pioneered to take proactive steps in the fight against climate change. We are actively engaged in capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and providing access to clean water for both drinking and agricultural purposes, all aimed at making a positive impact on our planet.

A Bigger Picture – The Era of the ”Air Economy”

Leveraging novel reticular materials, Atoco captures carbon and water molecules from the air. By doing this, we tackle the causes of climate change and one of its most urgent and severe consequences: global water scarcity.


Considering the significant impact that global warming has on the world economy, I often think of the challenges that companies like ours are trying to solve as a distinctly new era in its own right – I think of it as the era of the “Air Economy,” where the air around us will need to be a focal point for humanity in our pursuit of a sustainable future.