SynHiSel project to reinvent chemical separation methods

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SynHiSel, a £9m multi-university project to develop new chemical processing technology, aims to save 100 million tonnes in annual CO2 emissions and £3.5bn in energy costs worldwide.

Researchers said the new chemical processing technology would have applications in areas such as water treatment and CO2 removal. Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

The EPSRC-funded programme will investigate how to develop more efficient ways of separating chemicals – processes that underpin crucial parts of everyday life including clean water treatment, CO2 removal and food and pharmaceutical production.

It is estimated that these separations currently consume 10-15 per cent of total energy usage, and could be made ten times more efficient by creating new highly selective membranes.

Principal investigator Prof. Davide Mattia, of Bath University’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Centre for Advanced Separations Engineering (CASE) said that SynHiSel aims to help the UK lead in developing new high value, high efficiency chemical processing techniques.

“We want to improve our understanding of highly selective membrane technology to create value in manufacturing and make processes more sustainable,” said Mattia.

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“Put simply, membranes work by retaining something and letting something else through – characteristics we call selectivity and permeance. Depending on the application, the value may be in either what’s retained, or what’s let through.”

Mattia added that membrane-based separations tend to be energy efficient compared to other methods, but are often highly specialised to a single purpose.

The project aims to maximise the efficiency advantage by investigating fundamentals of membranes to uncover universal characteristics that can be applied to a range of real-world uses, he said, saving time and cost as well as reducing waste through a more ‘robust’ approach that curbs the need to reinvent a new process for each application.

The programme will bring together chemical and process engineers, chemists, materials scientists and experts in scaling-up of industrial manufacture. It also aims to develop a new generation of talent in the field by acting as the virtual UK national membrane centre.

Industrial partners include Evonik Industries AG, Dupont Teijin Films (UK), Pall Europe, BP, ExxonMobil and Cytiva Europe. UK-based SMEs including Exactmer, Nanotherics, RFC Power, Watercycle Technologies, Laser Micromachining and the Bath Uni spin-out Naturbeads will also collaborate with the team.