The Separations research theme at ICAM is looking at improving a range of processes which are used in the energy industry. These separation processes occupy a large portion of the industry’s activities, contributing to both capital and operational expenditure.
The separation of chemicals is fundamental to almost all industrial processes but the use of chemical separation and purification is extremely energy intensive. Currently, according Nature, 10 to 15% of all energy consumed globally is used in chemical separation processes.
Improving the efficiency of separation processes, or being able to eliminate steps through improved separations earlier in the process, would have a huge impact on economic performance for BP. In addition, treated water could be used as feedstock for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) and other BP Upstream production processes.
To address these challenges, ICAM research is developing new knowledge and improved materials for separations in the energy industry. The research is impacting BP’s Upstream and Downstream operations through:
- a better understanding of the structure activity relationship between membrane structure, its properties and the flow through the membrane, leading to optimised water processing and separation operations
- developing separations systems that are more efficient and resist fouling
- an understanding of the nano-scale and micro-scale features which govern and influence separation and condensation processes
Researchers at ICAM are taking on the challenge of creating more efficient membranes with the potential for new applications. Through experiments and mathematical modelling, a team of chemical engineers at Imperial College London, led by Professor Andrew Livingston, are developing a new understanding of the structure and function of polymer membranes from reverse osmosis.
Studying the fundamental science of membranes is allowing BP to improve the efficiency of off-shore water desalination processes, to reduce the amount of energy used in oil extraction and increase the efficiency of the process.
A sister project at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, led by Professor Benito J. Mariñas, is researching membranes for waste water clean-up. The Illinois team are developing polymer membranes that will be selective, letting water pass through and rejecting organics that are toxic to nature.