Sustainable production of clean water, energy, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals is largely impacted by the efficiency of separation processes in product supply chains. Approximately 10% of the world’s energy is consumed in these separation processes, most of which, because of capital investment issues, are based on decades-old technology. Advanced membrane and adsorbent separators—based on molecular-scale resolution between small molecules—are at least 10 times more efficient than existing separators, opening the possibility of offsetting major global energy usage via advanced separations alone. My research group seeks to create robust membrane and adsorbent platforms that are capable of efficiently separating a wide variety of small molecules.
To meet this global separations challenge, our research focuses on the creation of robust materials-enabled advanced separators and their manufacturing into energy-efficient, modular devices. Engineering novel materials—such as zeolitic imidazolate frameworks and polymers of intrinsic microporosity—and material combinations into high mass transfer area devices shows promise for emerging separation applications, and is a major focus of our work. These emerging separations include natural gas liquid fractionation, air separation, carbon capture, and solvent recovery. We are developing a new separation process known as “organic solvent reverse osmosis” that enables effective differentiation of organic and isomer molecules. We synthesize and manufacture advanced composite materials, investigate mass transfer of small molecules through these materials, and perform realistic separation experiments.
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