Editorial Feature

Synthesis of Covalent Organic Frameworks Thin Films

Covalent Organic Frameworks (COFs) represent a significant advancement in materials science, offering tailored functionalities for diverse applications such as sensing, optoelectronics, and drug delivery. Learn about the synthesis of covalent organic framework thin films in this article. 

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What are Covalent Organic Frameworks (COFs)?

Covalent Organic Frameworks (COFs) are composed of light elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon, connected by strong covalent bonds, providing exceptional structural stability. The first-ever pure two-dimensional (2D) organic frameworks, COF-1 and COF-5, were synthesized in 2005 by Yaghi and colleagues. These frameworks were made up of organic building components joined by strong covalent bonds using reticular chemistry. Following this, a wide range of COFs emerged, including keto-enol-linked COFs, hydrazone-linked COFs, and imine-linked COFs5,7.

Importance of COF Thin Films in Materials Science

Covalent organic frameworks represent a very important advancement in materials science, addressing the challenge of constructing persistent porous structures with ordered pores. COFs exhibit highly organized crystalline formations through reversible reactions, diverging from conventional short-range covalent polymers.

Compared to traditional porous solids like zeolites and metal-organic frameworks, COFs allow precisely pre-designable structures, offering tailored functionalities specific to desired functions, providing permanent porosity, high thermal stability, low density, and structural diversity. Their unique properties allow potential in diverse applications such as sensing, optoelectronics, separation, adsorption, drug delivery and energy storage.5

Methods, Techniques and Latest Developments for Synthesizing COF Thin Films

Recently, there has been a lot of research on COF thin film synthesis, and researchers have developed several novel techniques and methods.

Two-Step COF Fabrication Technique

In a 2023 study, researchers developed a novel method for synthesizing covalent organic framework thin films, addressing challenges in the integration of these materials into electronic and optical devices. The researchers fabricated COF thin films through a two-step process. Initially, they synthesized soluble azomethine (AM) precursor mixtures, TAPA-PDA and TAPB-PDA, which were then drop-cast onto various substrates. Subsequent exposure to solvent vapors facilitated the conversion of the AM films into crystalline COF films, allowing for large-area synthesis with controlled thickness and enhanced crystallinity.

The researchers successfully demonstrated the solution processing of these COF films on various substrates, including transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs), graphene, indium tin oxide (ITO), and glass. Unlike previous methods, this approach enables the fabrication of large-area COF films with controlled thickness and enhanced crystallinity. Additionally, the study reveals distinct orientation differences between TAPA-PDA and TAPB-PDA COF films, providing opportunities for tailored electronic and optical properties in applications such as sensors and electronic devices.3

Innovative Strategy for COF Nanosheet Production

In another 2022 study, researchers addressed the challenge of synthesizing thin films of covalent organic frameworks through a novel electrocleavage synthesis strategy. This method involves cathodic reduction and protonation to exfoliate COF powders into nanosheets, which then migrate to the anode and undergo anodic oxidation to reproduce crystalline COF films on electrodes.

The strategy is adaptable to various imine-linked COFs due to the low redox potential of imine bonds, resulting in high crystallinity and hierarchical porosity. This electrocleavage approach stands out from traditional methods, such as mechanical exfoliation, by producing large-area COF nanosheets with high dispersibility. The researchers showcased the utility of these COF films by demonstrating their exceptional iodine adsorption with record-high rate constants, highlighting their potential in mass transport applications.6

Image Credit: AleksLuorat/Shutterstock.com

COF Films by Chemical Vapor Deposition

Researchers have advanced the synthesis of covalent organic frameworks in a 2023 study, addressing the challenges of slow reactions and powder formation associated with conventional methods. The researchers co-evaporated two monomers onto a heated substrate by employing a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) approach, achieving a rapid and efficient synthesis of highly crystalline, defect-free COF films in less than 30 minutes.

The technique, validated by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and grazing-incidence wide-angle X-ray scattering (GIWAXS), produced films with hydrazone, imine, and ketoenamine COF linkages. These thin films, ranging from 40 nm to 1 μm thickness, exhibited potential applications as size exclusion membranes, catalytic platforms, and organic transistors. The study emphasizes the scalability and environmental benefits of CVD, offering a versatile platform for the production of high-quality COF films for diverse applications.1,2

Challenges and Future Direction

The challenges associated with COF synthesis encompass scalability limitations and fragility issues, hindering their commercial and industrial viability. Achieving stable dynamic linkages under controlled conditions is crucial for network structure formation. However, maintaining ideal reaction conditions for large-scale COF production remains problematic, resulting in low yields.

Synthetic and crystallization aspects pose additional hurdles, requiring extended reaction times, high temperatures, and careful consideration of catalysts to balance reaction rates without compromising stability. Activation of COFs involves overcoming insolubility through solvent exchange, vacuum drying, or supercritical CO2 drying, each with its own set of challenges4. However, recent research, such as the one discussed above, tackles the salability and time-related challenges.2

The prospects of COF synthesis involve overcoming scalability challenges and enhancing synthetic and crystallization aspects. Integrating mobile robotics into COF synthesis processes can allow increased productivity, shortened timelines, and efficient experimentation for optimal reaction conditions4. Similarly, integrating COF thin films into real-world applications, such as sensors, membranes, and electronic devices, will drive further research and development in this field.

Metal Organic Frameworks Vs. Covalent Organic Frameworks

References and Further Reading

  1. Craig, M. (2023) Developing Covalent Organic Framework Films via Vapor Deposition. AZoNano. Retrieved on February 19, 2024 from https://www.azonano.com/news.aspx?newsID=40594
  2. Daum, J. P., et al. (2023) Solutions Are the Problem: Ordered Two-Dimensional Covalent Organic Framework Films by Chemical Vapor Deposition. ACS Nano. doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.3c06142
  3. Tran, L. D., et al. (2023) Oriented Covalent Organic Framework Film Synthesis from Azomethine Compounds. Advanced Materials Interfaces. doi.org/10.1002/admi.202300042
  4. Vardhan, H., et al. (2023) Large-Scale Synthesis of Covalent Organic Frameworks: Challenges and Opportunities. Membranes. doi.org/10.3390/membranes13080696
  5. Wang, H., et al. (2019) Recent progress in covalent organic framework thin films: fabrications, applications and perspectives. Chemical Society Reviews. doi.org/10.1039/C8CS00376A
  6. Wang, L., et al (2022). Electrocleavage synthesis of solution-processed, imine-linked, and crystalline covalent organic framework thin films. Journal of the American Chemical Society. doi.org/10.1021/jacs.1c13072
  7. Zhang, T., & Zhao, Y. (2022). Interfacial Synthesis of 2D COF Thin Films. In Covalent Organic Frameworks. IntechOpen. doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.106968

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Taha Khan

Written by

Taha Khan

Taha graduated from HITEC University Taxila with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. During his studies, he worked on several research projects related to Mechanics of Materials, Machine Design, Heat and Mass Transfer, and Robotics. After graduating, Taha worked as a Research Executive for 2 years at an IT company (Immentia). He has also worked as a freelance content creator at Lancerhop. In the meantime, Taha did his NEBOSH IGC certification and expanded his career opportunities.  

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