Removal of water vapor from complex process stream using catalytic membrane reactors

High oil prices and increasing costs for CO2 emissions affect the competiveness of the chemical industry in Europe, which imports for more than 70% of its oil. To stay competitive these industries turn to alternative feedstock, such as natural gas, coal and biomass. This requires new technologies for the production of fuels and chemicals that are able to start from light alkenes (C1-C4) and cheap CO2 rather than from long-chain hydrocarbons from oil.

Several proposals are done to use CO2 as feedstock. However, CO2 is a stable molecule and therefore it is thermodynamically unfavorable to convert it into valuable products. These challenges could be overcome by process intensification through the development of catalytic membrane reactors. By removing one of the products from the reaction mixture, the equilibrium shifts to the desired product side and higher conversions are obtained.

In this project the goal is to develop a catalytic membrane reactor which removes water from a complex process stream. In this membrane reactor, CO2 and reactant A are converted into product B and H2O (see reaction 1).

Removal of water im mediately from the process stream with a selective membrane prevents that the equilibrium is established and more product B is formed (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Removal of water from a complex process stream using a catalytic membrane reactor.

As Figure 1 shows, CO2 and reactant A enter the reactive layer and react at the fixed catalytic particles (reactive layer) into product B and H2O. H2O is immediately removed with a selective membrane (selective layer), which prevents the establishment of the equilibrium and enhances the formation of product B.

This project investigates the concept of catalytic membrane reactors as a way to selectively remove water from the reaction mixture in order to shift the equilibrium to the product side and produce more valuable product. The project ranges from material science to process technology such as membrane development of the different layers, mass transport through both layers and process economics and process design.