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Membrane Offers Promise for Greening Planet and Wallets

Posted on November 29th, 2017 by in Chemical R&D

nanotube membrane

Image by U.S. Department of Energy [U.S. Government Works] via flickr

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new system potentially offering electrical power plants a way to simultaneously green their emission while delivering an additional revenue stream.

First reported by MIT News, the new membrane-based system was developed by MIT postdoc student Xiao-Yu Wu and Ahmed Ghoniem, the Ronald C. Crane Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the university. Their research is published in the journal ChemSusChem. The membrane separates oxygen from carbon dioxide, leaving behind carbon monoxide which is useful as fuel or can be combined with hydrogen and/or water to produce other liquid hydrogen fuels or chemical feedstocks.

Made from a compound of lanthanum, calcium, and iron oxide, the membrane has a structure known as perovskite which only allows oxygen atoms to pass. According to Wu, the membrane is “100 percent selective for oxygen.” Separation of oxygen atoms using the process is driven by temperatures up to 990 degrees Celsius and a stream of readily oxidizing fuel drawing the atoms completely through the membrane. This reduces the need for alternative energy intensive processes such as creating a vacuum.

Membrane separation systems are used in a wide variety of applications. You likely used one this morning in the form of a paper filter while brewing your morning coffee. The input to the process is known as the “feed”. The “permeate” passes through the membrane while the “retentate” is retained. For a quick and interesting primer on the technology behind membrane systems, check out the following video (and series) on YouTube:

Being heavily regulated, capital intensive, and with thin margins, I would imagine that power generation companies must overcome considerable inertia when considering commercial investments in new emissions technology. By providing the “icing” of an additional revenue stream on the “cake” of lower greenhouse gasses, this new process could be just what powerplants need to have their cake and eat it too.

How are permeable membranes used in the manufacture of your company’s product line? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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