Separations account for 20% of the total U.S. manufacturing energy use. Hence use of more energy-efficient separation processes would potentially achieve great energy savings. Novel materials hold the key to revolutionary advancements in achieving high-throughput, selective, and cost-effective separations that enable carbon capture and sequestration, clean-coal technology, natural-gas sweetening, biomass processing, nuclear waste treatment and fuel reprocessing, and mining of critical materials, to list a few important examples.
Discovery of novel separations materials is a truly interdisciplinary endeavor, requiring the close collaboration of chemists, chemical engineers, materials scientists, and computational experts. At ORNL, researchers from such areas are innovating novel separation media for carbon capture, extracting uranium from sea water, processing of fission products, water desalination, and pretreatment of biomass. The chemistry and materials involved include: ionic liquids, a versatile system of negligible vapor pressure; porous carbonaceous materials, a high surface-area and flexible system for either membrane or sorbent applications; ligand-grated polymers, for efficient extraction of low-concentration metal ions; graphene-based materials, for high-flux water desalination; special design ligands and frameworks, for selective binding of cations and anions. In addition, both quantum mechanical and classical simulations are employed to understand the physical processes in separations and to design novel ligands, frameworks, and porous architectures for targeted separations.
Novel materials are the key to energy-efficient separations. At ORNL we are advancing the understanding and discovery of such materials by leveraging ORNL’s strengths in advanced materials, computation, neutron sciences, and nuclear energy.
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