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VITO’s Hybrid Membrane Technology (HYMEM) in Ongoing Projects and Applications
Hybrid materials derived from the union of organic and inorganic substances bearing well-designed and useful functionalities –that can be further exploited– have found increasing applications in recent years. In that context, specialized hybrid materials in several areas have been developed and well-studied; examples include i) thermo-responsive, fluorescent nanocrystals and light-activated gates on the surface of mesoporous and hybrid-silica films, ii) smart membranes and separation devices, iii) nanoceramic/polymer composites for the automobile or packaging industries, among many others.
In the last few years, we, at VITO, have developed and optimized a new technology, titled HYMEM, that permits the integration of polymer brushes on ceramic materials for the development of high performing and more selective membranes for applications in organic solvent nanofiltration (OSN). For such applications, a high chemical, mechanical and thermal membrane stability, a long-term performance, and a limited pre-treatment and maintenance are needed. The resulting hybrid membranes combine the best of two worlds: the superior overall properties of ceramics and the tunable surface properties offered by the organic/polymer layer. In that context, HYMEM allows the tuning of ceramic membranes towards size exclusion and affinity-based filtrations as needed for the targeted application.
These hybrid membranes have now started to play an integral part in VITO’s filtration activities. The HYMEM technology have also been successfully implemented in two European consortium where VITO is a key partner; i) EASiCHEM, which stands for Efficient Affinity Separations for CHEMical Applications, and ii) MACBETH, which stands for Membranes And Catalysts Beyond Economic and Technological Hurdles.
EASiCHEM aims to develop more efficient, and/or more sustainable affinity separations (AS) processes, focusing on two promising, energy-poor liquid separation technologies:
- Membrane-based AS processes: Bringing the selectivity of chromatography to membrane separations, using functionalized ceramic membranes tailored to match the separation problem at hand;
- Continuous chromatography: Tackling the main disadvantage of selective chromatography, making use of a membrane-contactor-like design at microreactor scale.
The work program within EASiCHEM is directed towards extensively explore, understand and benchmark the capabilities and limitations of the new AS processes using a myriad of functionalized ceramic materials, which is where HYMEM has been useful. The potential of the new AS processes are now being explored in a variety of industrially-relevant separation cases suggested by an industrial advisory board. This project is composed of an equilibrated consortium of 7 academic partners, with the right, complementary expertise, strengthened by previous relevant experience, and strong mutual collaboration.
MACBETH aims to combine catalytic synthesis with the corresponding separation units in a single highly efficient catalytic membrane reactor (CMR). This disruptive technology aims at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of large volume industrial processes by up to 35%. The revolutionary new reactor design will not only guarantee substantially smaller and safer production plants but has also a tremendous competitive advantage since CAPEX is decreased by up to 50% and OPEX by up to 80%. To achieve this, the MACBETH consortium combines the catalytic synthesis step with the highly efficient separation step via a tailor-made membrane. This, again, is where HYMEM has been integrated and have continued to play a key role in achieving the set targets.