Published in the journal Science researchers have created a new membrane that separates closely related molecules and is far sturdier than others. This newly designed material is bound to lead to lowered chemical processing costs and use in other applications of separation.
Separating chemicals has been estimated to consume around 10 percent of the world’s energy production. In creating fresh water up to 60 percent of the energy cost is used to separate substances from the pure water. This particular membrane is the culmination research starting in the 1990’s and is focused on separating xylenes, an organic compound family, from each other.
The main problem with separating these compounds is that each has very similar properties, in fact the mass and boiling points of each are exactly the same throughout the family. Even in physical size, “They differ in size by a tenth of a nanometer.” To further complicate the matter, researchers were looking for a process that is feasible at room temperature to further reduce the energy costs.
The final membrane begins with a commercial polymer that is spun into hollow fibers, linked together into mats, and then heated until only a carbon fiber membrane remains. From tests the researchers have found the membrane uses 10 – 20 times less energy than common methods of separating xylenes.
Click here for the full article by Umair Irfan.