Lower energy intensive separations can have huge impact in industries such as the petrochemical sector where up to 50% of the energy is consumed to perform separation processes. Reduction in separation energy intensity and CO2 emissions by more than a full order of magnitude is possible if separations are done by minimizing the use of thermally driven processes.
While understandable in thermodynamic terms, implementation of this vision faces huge challenges. Implementing truly advanced separations technology requires new materials, but it is more than a “materials problem”. Indeed, creating high performance membranes and sorbents also includes a “materials processing problem”. The intersection of these two general types of problems lies at the core of chemical engineering, so this topic is actually a huge opportunity for our community. A spectrum of length scales must be accommodated in advanced separation devices that are useful for large scale feed streams. Challenges and emerging approaches to deal with these challenges to create the next generation of large scale low energy intensity separation devices such as membranes and sorbents will be discussed. Some realistic paths forward will also be suggested.