A team of researchers in the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology, have developed a more energy-efficient method of chemical separations that could revolutionize processes in the petrochemical and biofuels industries.
With a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the team has developed a new method for creating high-performance membranes from crystal sieves, called zeolites. The method could significantly increase the energy efficiency of chemical separations over conventional methods and enable higher production rates. The researchers developed a rapid heating treatment to remove structural defects in zeolite membranes that limit their performance, a problem that has plagued the technology for decades. This discovery could increase the energy efficiency of producing important chemical solvents such as xylene and renewable biofuels, such as ethanol and butanol, she said. Such membrane-based separation processes can eliminate all but a small fraction of the energy usage associated with this type of biofuel production.