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World-first nanotech, using MOFs, enables long-term storage of fruits

 

By Emily McDaid

MOF Technologies – a QUB spinout – is a leader in the production of Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) and mechanochemical innovation. Produced in the absence of solvents, MOFs are nanoparticles that can absorb, filtrate, transport, capture and store gases. They are a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, nanotechnology.

MOFs are difficult for a non-chemist to understand, but imagine it like a microscopic sponge that has remarkable capabilities to manage gases. The list of applications for MOFs runs into, literally, the tens of thousands.

“MOFs were first discovered about 20 years ago, with approximately 40,000 MOFs now available. However, these materials have not being commercialised, primarily because they were neither cost-effective nor environmentally friendly to produce on large scale. We are changing this,” said CEO, Dr Paschal McCloskey.

“MOF Technologies now has the first utilisation of MOF materials in a product. It’s a world-first,” he continued.

Through a partnership with multinational distributor Decco, MOF Technologies has developed and launched the first MOF for use in a product called TruPick™. TruPick enables the long-term storage of hard fruits (e.g. apples). The MOF stores and then releases a gas, 1-MCP, which binds to the ethylene receptor (ethylene being the fruit ripening hormone). This process slows down the ripening process, and apples can be stored for 9 – 12 months at least.

TruPick is currently sold in the US, and Turkey, with product registrations on-going in nearly every other continent, including Europe, Australia, Africa and South America.

Paschal told me, “Critically this doesn’t entail coating the apples with anything. The fruit is held in an air-tight container, which is filled with the TruPick gas.”

In this way, apples can be stored to last until the next year’s harvest, a huge advantage in annual fruit picking.

Owing to its potential, MOF Technologies was the recipient of NISP’s £25k Award in 2012.

Can TruPick be used with all fruits?

“We may be able to expand TruPick’s capabilities to pineapples, pears, avocados and even certain types of tomato,” said Paschal.

What does it look like?

“You can’t see it, but it has a crystalline structure. It just looks like a white powder. MOFs can be built to be almost anything. A good analogy would be the kids’ toy Mechano, which you can build most shapes with.”

What other applications do you have in the pipeline?

Paschal said: “The range of uses is massive. MOFs can store natural gas for sustainable energy. MOFs can also filter out contaminated gases. They can directly capture CO2. They can work in air cleaning applications in industrial or domestic settings.”

He continued, “There’s a lot of work to be done, but across the world there are around 150 research labs dedicated to MOFs. Wherever you need to capture, store or filter a gas, you could potentially use MOFs.”

MOF Technologies recently raised £1.5 million from Excelsa Ventures and QUBIS. How big is your team currently?

“We have 11 staff members at present,” said Paschal. This includes inventor Professor Stuart James, who was instrumental in founding the company from Queen’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

What’s the true potential? Can MOFs change the world?

“MOFs have the potential to completely change gas storage, and wide-ranging other uses. It’s the next generation of advanced materials to be utilised in multiple applications. There’s enormous potential in clean energy,” said Paschal.

How many products could you have on the market in five years time?

Paschal said, “I’m confident there could realistically be 10-20 products utilising MOFs within five years. Once companies start realising the potential for utilising MOFs, there could be an exponential expansion in the number of products commercialised.”

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