Membranes are worldwide used at a large scale for the purification of water. However, they are not yet suitable for use in organic solvents, as these solvents modify the small pores in polymer membranes to such an extent that they no longer work. UT researcher Dr Mieke Luiten-Olieman (Department of Inorganic Membranes) is developing sustainable ceramic nanofiltration membranes for organic solvents in the ReSolve research project. The Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) recently awarded funding within the Open Technology Programme.
Because current membranes are still unsuitable for large flows of organic solvents containing small molecules at elevated temperatures, we often use energy-intensive technologies such as distillation. With new, sustainable membranes that replace these technologies, we save a lot of energy.
Organic solvents in water can react with the current generation of polymer membranes. The pores in the membranes swell and then no longer allow the right molecules to pass through. Therefore, Luiten-Olieman is developing ceramic membranes that do not react with organic solvents. The performance of the developed membranes will be tested with three model mixtures, representing industrial solvent flows. In the last year of the project, the first upscaling test will be performed to see if the membranes are also suitable for industrial use.
In the ReSolve project, the departments Inorganic Membranes (IM) and Integrated Devices and Systems (IDS) work together to develop a new atomic layer deposition for these kinds of membranes. The full title of the project is 'Re-use of industrial solvent process streams with ceramic nanofiltration membranes with adaptable surface properties'. NWO's Open Technology Programme is open to excellent research with a view to the possible application of the results. The programme offers companies and other organisations a low-threshold way of linking up with scientific research that must lead to applicable knowledge.