Unraveling the Interfacial Structure–Performance Correlation of Flexible Metal–Organic Framework Membranes on Polymeric Substrates

Pure metal–organic framework (MOF) layers deposited on porous supports are important candidates for molecular sieving membranes, but their performance usually deviates from theoretical estimations. Here, we combine step-wise scanning electron microscopy imaging, time-resolved synchrotron X-ray scattering, terahertz infrared spectroscopy, and density functional theory calculation to investigate the ZIF-8 membrane formation on two types (polydopamine and TiO2) of functionalized porous supports. Though molecular sieving of ZIF-8 membranes for smaller gases (He, H2, and CO2) can be achieved with both types of functionalized supports, we unravel that the strong interaction between MOF and polydopamine can disrupt the formation of “perfect” MOF crystals at the interface, leading to a “contracted” MOF structure with partially uncoordinated imidazolate ligands. This further affects the low-frequency dynamical parameters of the framework and inhibits the effective seeded growth. Eventually, it leads to an unexpected loss of selectivity for the bulkier gases (N2 and CH4) for ZIF-8 on polydopamine-functionalized supports. This work links the dynamical aspects of MOFs with their gas transport behavior and highlights the importance of regulating the interfacial weak forces to preserve the ideal molecular sieving efficiency of MOF membranes, which also provides guidance for defect engineering of MOF film fabrication for sensing and electronic devices beyond membranes.