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Crop Biotech Update

ORNL Researchers Develop New Membrane Technology for Biofuel Production

August 2, 2017

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have recently developed a new class of porous membranes, a high performance architecture surface-selective (HIPAS) membrane technology. This new technology can improve the efficiency of biofuel separations, effectively lowering the cost of biofuel production.

Separations are required to convert biomass to biofuels, including removing water from algae or contaminants from sugar streams before microbes or catalysts can process them into fuels. Membranes can be used to perform these separations. A porous membrane is an engineered barrier that allows certain particles to pass through while preventing others.

While traditional membrane separations rely exclusively on pore size to recover carbon from aqueous streams, ORNL's HiPAS membranes do not rely solely on pore size to separate carbon. Instead, these new membranes use nanotechnology coatings to change the shape of the pores, allowing for 10-fold larger pore size with the same separation efficiency as traditional membranes.

Researchers can use ORNL's new HiPAS membrane technology to separate carbon, the main building block for biofuels, from both aqueous and vapor-phase materials. Their work has multiple applications in the production of biofuels.