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A mathematical model for zeolite membrane module performance and its use for techno-economic evaluation of improved energy efficiency hybrid membrane-distillation processes for butane isomer separations

Mittal, Nitish, Bai, Peng, Kelloway, Adam, Siepmann, J. Ilja, Daoutidis, Prodromos, Tsapatsis, Michael
Journal of membrane science 2016 v.520 pp. 434-449
adsorption, artificial membranes, butanes, crystals, distillation, energy efficiency, industrial applications, isomers, mathematical models, prediction, process design, zeolites
The aim of this work is to develop enabling tools that can assess the potential of zeolite membranes for industrial applications. The specific objectives are: (1) Develop a detailed mathematical model of a zeolite membrane separation process for accurate performance prediction under industrial conditions, and (2) Perform conceptual process design and techno-economic evaluation of the overall process for an application specific flowsheet. To this end, a detailed mathematical model, based on the real adsorption solution (RAS) theory and the Maxwell-Stefan formulation for transport was developed to describe permeation through a zeolite membrane. Effects like support resistances to transport, use of sweep gas and concentration polarization were included. The model is further applied to study butane isomer separation using a MFI-type zeolite membrane. A comparison of steady state flux and separation factor predicted by the model with the experimentally determined values suggests that the permeation in the real membranes is lower than that for the zeolite crystals. This lower permeance is attributed to the microstructural defects and suggests that there is a considerable scope of improvement in the performance of current state-of-the-art real MFI membranes. It is shown that up to a 10-fold increase in permeance through the membrane is practical, beyond which the external resistance starts to dominate. Furthermore, the detailed zeolite membrane model is integrated into a process level simulation, to evaluate the membrane performance in industrial settings, and a techno-economic analysis is also performed to this end. While single stage membrane process does not achieve the target purity and multi-stage membrane process requires prohibitively large area, a hybrid membrane/distillation process is found to be energy efficient and economically attractive.