Omar M. Yaghi Receives 2024 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development for Groundbreaking Work in Innovative Materials for Carbon Capture, Energy Storage, and Water Harvesting

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The Tang Prize, a biennial award established in 2014, has honored five cycles of laureates across various fields. This year, the announcement of the prize winners will unfold over four consecutive days, commencing with the Sustainable Development category. Today (June 18th), the Tang Prize Foundation announced Omar M. Yaghi, an esteemed American chemist, as the recipient of the 2024 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development. Prof. Yaghi is awarded for his extraordinary contributions to sustainable development, particularly his pioneering work with Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) and other ultra-porous frameworks that can be tailored for carbon capture, hydrogen and methane storage, and water harvesting from desert air. Prof. Yaghi's research has revolutionized the field of chemistry and materials science, offering transformative solutions for sustainable development through the creation of customizable materials with exceptional properties.


Prof. Yaghi is currently the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, a Faculty Scientist Affiliate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Founding Director of the Berkeley Global Science Institute. He is also the co-director of the newly established Bakar Institute of Digital Materials for the Planet at College of Computing, Data Science and Society. Prof. Yaghi holds 60 US patents and has been honored with many prestigious awards from 17 countries, some of which are among the highest in Chemistry. Prof. Yaghi has introduced a new method for controlling four of the smallest gas molecules in the atmosphere that significantly impact our planet's sustainable development: carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, and water. This was made possible through his pioneering development of a new field of chemistry known as reticular chemistry. Reticular chemistry is a new approach to creating materials by linking organic and inorganic units into strong, porous crystalline structures called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs). Prof. Yaghi demonstrated how these novel framework materials can trap, concentrate, and manipulate hydrogen, methane, carbon dioxide, and water from the air, offering innovative solutions to pressing issues related to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including energy, environment, and water resources.


Unprecedented Success: First Sustainable Application Yields Amazing Results

As a pioneer of MOFs and COFs, Prof. Yaghi is the first scientist to apply these innovative materials to the field of sustainable development, demonstrating tangible and impressive results. His pioneering work has yielded impressive results. For example, he demonstrated that incorporating one of his MOFs increases the carbon dioxide storage capability at room temperature by 18 folds. Furthermore, chemically modified MOFs and COFs can selectively capture voluminous amounts of carbon dioxide from combustion gases. MOFs are already being utilized in the venting systems of cement plants in Canada. In the context of methane storage, a fuel tank filled with MOFs can triple the amount of methane stored at room temperature and safe pressures compared to a tank without MOFs under the same conditions. This achievement allows automobiles to triple the distance traveled without refueling. Additionally, for hydrogen storage, MOF and COF materials can store up to twelve weight percent of hydrogen (at 77 K and 100 bar) in a tank filled with MOFs, making this technology relevant to the safe and stationary storage of hydrogen.


Using just a kilogram of MOF materials, Prof. Yaghi can harvest water in water-scarce areas with low humidity, such as deserts, using only ambient sunlight. The water is concentrated in the pores of MOFs, and its quality exceeds the standards for drinking water set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In collaboration with industrial companies including General Electric and startups in the past few years, he has developed portable MOFs water harvesters capable of producing hundreds of liters of water per day in an energy-efficient and cost-effective manner, sufficient for meeting the needs of a family. Prof. Yaghi has stated that the amount of water in the air is nearly equivalent to the total fresh water in all rivers and lakes on the Earth's surface. He aims to help water-scarce areas achieve “water independence” through this technology.


Material Advantage: Pioneering New Solutions for Sustainable Development

        The new materials, MOFs and COFs, developed and designed by Prof. Yaghi, have many advantages. First, they are highly crystalline with a stable and durable structure. For instance, the water harvesting device employing MOFs designed by Prof. Yaghi maintains optimal performance even after 30,000 cycles of use. Second, these materials possess record-breaking porosities, robust yet flexible crystallinity, and can scale to multi-ton quantities. Third, their structures can be chemically modified at the molecular level (Lego-like), showcasing the chemical flexibility and precision with which their structures could be designed and manipulated.


        Fourth, Prof. Yaghi's research results are not only groundbreaking in basic science but are also rapidly demonstrated in practical applications for sustainable development, such as quantitative production through industry-academia cooperation with the well-known German company BASF. To date, hundreds of laboratories worldwide are actively working on applications for clean energy, clean air, and pure drinking water applications using the materials and technologies he has developed. Several international chemical, materials, and automotive companies and more than 30 start-ups have also launched related programs and products. Currently, it is estimated that more than 100,000 types of MOFs and COFs materials are produced by Reticular Chemistry worldwide. According to data from the Market Watch website under Dow Jones & Company in the United States, the market capitalization of MOFs and COFs was projected to be $270 million in 2021 and $350 million in 2022. These materials, based on technology developed by Prof. Yaghi, are also being applied in the field of medical science. This emerging technology is expected to continue flourishing with endless potential in the future, with market value projections exceeding one billion by 2030.


A Unique Background Driving the Future

Prof. Yaghi was born into a refugee family in the desert on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, with roots of Palestine. His personal experience with water scarcity and poverty has led him to see the importance of science and research in improving the lives of people in areas with limited opportunities. The widespread use of MOFs and COFs around the globe has given Prof. Yaghi the means to engage emerging scholars in developing countries. He founded the Berkeley Global Science Institute at the University of California and developed unique mentoring programs, which are being implemented in centers and collaborations of research he established in countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Mexico, and Jordan. These centers aim to invite the youth to ‘plug’ into research locally at an early age and begin transforming themselves and contributing meaningfully to their scientific environment. Through these mentoring programs, young scholars are invited to participate in research, make a difference in their own lives, and help solve the larger societal problems.







About the Tang Prize

Since the advent of globalization, mankind has been able to enjoy the convenience brought forth by the advancement of human civilization and science. Yet a multitude of challenges, such as climate change, the emergence of new infectious diseases, wealth gap, and moral degradation, have surfaced along the way. Against this backdrop, Dr. Samuel Yin established the Tang Prize in December 2012. It consists of four award categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. Every other year, four independent and professional selection committees, comprising many internationally renowned experts, scholars, and Nobel winners, choose as Tang Prize laureates people who have influenced and made substantive contributions to the world, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or gender. A cash prize of NT$50 million (approx. US$1.7 million) is allocated to each category, with NT$10 million (approx. US$ 0.35 million) of it being a research grant intended to encourage professionals in every field to examine mankind’s most urgent needs in the 21st century, and become leading forces in the development of human society through their outstanding research outcomes and active civic engagement.