Nine Key Research, Development and Demonstration Needs Identified by Alternative Separations Report

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By David Constable, Science Director, ACS Green Chemistry Institute

In 2013, members of the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute (ACS GCI) Chemical Manufacturers Roundtable (ChMRT), conceived a project to identify how to fundamentally change the way separations technologies are applied in the chemical processing industries. The Roundtable formed a collaborative partnership with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and received funding from a NIST AmTech grant, to make this project, the Road Map to Accelerate Industrial Adoption of Less-Energy Intensive Alternative Separations (AltSep), a reality.  The initiative was led by ACS GCI ChMRT members, Robert Giraud of Chemours and Amit Sehgal of Solvay, with assistance from David Sullivan of Kraton Industries and Samy Ponusammy of MilliporeSigma. Today, the ACS GCI released the project’s final report, which is considered a key step forward in advancing the rational design and predictable, widespread, industrial application of less energy-intensive separations processes as alternatives to distillation.

The implementation of alternative separations technologies, as identified in the AltSep report, has the potential to transform the competitiveness and sustainability of the global chemistry enterprise.  Conventional fluid separations account for over 33% of the energy use and over 50% of the capital investment of chemical plants. Despite the cost of these conventional systems, the technology infrastructure changes needed to facilitate industrial availability of less energy-intensive alternative separations processes are so fundamental and significant that they are far beyond the resources of one, or even a small group of companies. The AltSep team recognized early on that a cross-cutting, integrated approach to identifying and prioritizing research, development and demonstration projects would be needed to solve technical challenges, and these challenges were best met by starting at the molecular level.    

To enable cost-effective, energy-efficient, fluid separations, the Road Map suggests that beginning with a molecular property-based framework for the selection, simulation and design of industrial separations processes could lead to:

  • Reduction of substantial energy use and the associated greenhouse gas emissions compared to separations via traditional approaches, primarily, distillation.
  • The recovery of valuable components in dilute process or waste streams, thereby supporting increasing the U.S. chemical industry's competitiveness and substantially improving its environmental performance.
  • The creation of good, high-technology manufacturing jobs by promoting and advancing new technologies and engineering tools.
  • Educating next generation business, science and engineering leaders in a range of more sustainable separations technologies.

The Road Map was developed based on the output from a series of six workshops with a total of 185 participants held over three years and resulted in the articulation of nine research and technology areas shown in the figure below. Workshop participants included experts in separations technologies, molecular modeling, physical/chemical property estimation, self-organizational or interfacial processes, process simulation and design, and other innovators from chemical sciences, physics, and engineering from the chemical process industries, universities, separations equipment and separating agent providers, national labs, and federal agencies. A publicly available version of the AltSep Road Map in PDF format may be downloaded here: AltSep Report 2019

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Figure 1:  AltSep key research, development and demonstration needs.