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Membranes for Gas Separation

Membrane technology for process intensification and enhanced process energy recovery

Water is a main by-product of many chemical processes, such as the production of hydrocarbons from syngas, condensation reactions, and oxidative dehydrogenation. Water is undesirable as a primary byproduct at the reaction site because it lowers the reaction rate and hinders equilibrium conversion to the desired products. Existing water removal technologies are associated with large energy losses and have severe temperature limitations. We are developing in-situ high temperature steam-removal membrane reactors to circumvent water separation from products and byproducts at low temperatures and pressures. Technology impact is a process intensification development whereby a conventional reactor and several associated unit operation processes are integrated to a composite unit. The results are enhanced reaction rates and significant energy savings.

As part of the effort to devise cost-effective, environmentally friendly, efficient processes for producing and utilizing hydrogen, we are developing oxygen and hydrogen permeable membranes. The oxygen transport membrane separates oxygen from air and makes it available for coal/biomass gasification and natural gas reforming. Currently, most oxygen separations are dependent on cryogenic distillation and pressure swing absorption; both separation processes are energy intensive. In a ceramic membrane reactor, air separation and reforming reaction can be integrated to a single unit (process intensification).

The hydrogen transport membrane facilitates the hydrogen separation from product streams generated during gasification, reforming, and other chemical reactions, thus permitting the highly efficient generation of electricity via fuel cells and the local production of hydrogen as a transportation fuel from reformed natural gas; the latter circumvents the need to develop an infrastructure for transporting hydrogen over long distances.

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