Heterogeneous catalysis with inorganic porous materials such as zeolites is of paramount importance for the production of many large-scale commodity products, but has rather limited success in fine chemical synthesis. We envisioned in 2001 that MOFs are particularly suited to generating single-site solid catalysts with unprecedentedly uniform catalytic sites and open channels for shape-, size-, chemo-, and stereo-selective reactions by taking advantage of the ability to assemble well-defined molecular building blocks into solid materials. The molecular origin of MOF catalysts significantly broadens the scope of reactions that porous solids can successfully catalyze, and allows for the systematic tuning of catalytic activities. On the other hand, MOF-based solid catalysts can simply be recovered and reused, yielding reductions in cost of catalyst regeneration and product purification in industrial processes.
In the past decade, we and other have shown that MOFs indeed provides an excellent platform for designing single-site solid catalysts for a large range of organic transformations that cannot be accomplished with inorganic porous materials. For example, we reported the first chiral MOF capable of catalyzing highly enantioselective reactions in J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2005, 127, 8940. We are actively pursuing the rational design of MOF-based asymmetric catalysts for many important stereoselective organic reactions. We are also interested in combining light-harvesting properties of MOFs to develop highly efficient photocatalytic systems for thermodynamically uphill organic transformations. Lastly, we are taking advantage of unique attributes of MOFs to design earth abundant metal-based single-site solid catalysts.