Tag Archive for: membrane technology

Innovation Award for R&D on Biogas Separation Technology to Bio4Energy Researcher

Bio4Energy research leader has been appointed Innovator of the Year by his employer Luleå University of Technology, Sweden, for developing energy-efficient technology for biogas upgrading for use as vehicle fuel.

Professor Jonas Hedlund and his team on Bio4Energy Catalysis and Separation have a history of developing and perfecting membranes from zeolites. The latter are microporous, crystalline aluminosilicate materials commonly used as commercial adsorbents or catalysts.

Carbon dioxide separation from biogas and saltwater purification are two main avenues for use of the membranes that the researchers are developing. To the best of their knowledge, they were the first team to develop large membranes from Chabazite, a so-called tectosilicate mineral of the zeolite group.

What set the effort apart, is the quality of the membranes developed.

Hedlund’s business venture ZeoMem Sweden is the only one to offer membranes for sale that are selective enough and which provide sufficient throughput for them to be used in industry, according to a press release from LTU.

“Zeolite membrane processes are a new, inexpensive and compact technology, which is approximately 90 per cent more energy efficient the technology in use”, Hedlund said;

“We estimate that these processes could be used in five per cent of separation processes worldwide. This means that the potential for energy savings from [using] new zeolite membrane processes is on a par with the annual consumption of [fossil] oil in Sweden”.

The goal is for the new-style zeolite membranes to be produced at an automated factory at Luleå, for ZeoMem Sweden to be able to provide membranes for purification of natural gas or ethene in large-scale industrial operations.

In its award motivation, LTU called the effort “an important contribution to the green transition and a more sustainable world.

“After more than 20 years of research on zeolite membranes, Jonas Hedlund has developed a unique and scalable solution for the purification of biogas”.

Bio4Energy has world-leading scientists on it research platform for Chemical Catalysis and Separation Technologies. Jonas Hedlund, professor at Luleå University of Technology, has been ranked among the top one per cent of leading scientists in chemical technology in a 2021 review by Stanford University, U.S.A. 

Young Researcher Wins Prize for Development of Sustainable Artificial Membranes

He wants to make environmentally friendly, artificial membranes that mimic the human body’s inbuilt membranes. Like a kidney’s filtering function that, in healthy people, keep functioning through a lifetime, said Naser Tavajohi, assistant professor at Umeå University.

He is one of Bio4Energy’s up-and-coming young researchers, who has just walked the red carpet for having won a prize from the Royal Swedish Academy Skytteanska Samfundet. It is one of 18 Royal Academies in Sweden.

“I have a dream to be a world-leading scientist in my field, who solves the life problems. I love what I am doing”, Tavajohi said in an online interview.

Membrane technology is part of many industrial applications, but they are not necessarily free of negative impacts on the natural environment, he explained;

“We want to make sustainable membranes for ‘green’ and ‘blue’ energy.”

Tavajohi’s group in Bio4Energy Chemical Catalysis and Separation Technologies focuses on making polymeric membranes from bio-based materials or solvents.

Wastewater treatment, energy storage, gas separation and a possible ‘brine refinery’ are target areas for the type of membranes that they have in mind.

The membranes “should be of superior, long-term function. We are trying to mimic biological, smart, stable, long-life membranes”, said the ambitious technology researcher.

In terms of large-scale research and development projects, Tavajohi and group members are part of Swedish national project to create a biorefinery for organic waste.

In the Bio4Energy research environment, they give input to a current project designed to make liquids for carbon dioxide separation from other gases, as well as a past one on bio ethylene purification using energy-efficient technology.

New Project to Create Organic Waste-based Biorefinery

Bio4Energy is part of a new multi-partner project to create a biorefinery for organic waste—with end products such as bio-based plastics, animal feed, “green” chemicals, biofuels and higher alcohols (Fusel oil)—in a two-step process.

If successful, the result could become a trendsetter concept for how to create a virtually waste-free system of making the said commodities, but as bio-based alternatives to their current fossil resource-based counterparts.

Researchers at the University of Borås in Sweden gave birth to the idea that the concept of biogas making could be expanded to deliver much more than just biogas car fuel, which is produced from the fermentation of food and agricultural waste in an oxygen-free environment.  

In addition to this kind of bacterial break down of organic residues (anaerobic digestion), they want to add two more main processes to reuse all of the contents of the organic waste feedstock. These processes are referred to as ‘membrane reactors’ and ‘biological augmentation’, in scientific speak.

The new concept will be tested at “large-scale” research facilities tied to the University of Borås, according to assistant professor Naser Tavajohi, who heads up Bio4Energy’s contribution to the project from Umeå University.

Although Tavajohi could not give an exact figure on the envisioned capacity, the scale would be near or at the level of industrial implementation. Consultants from RISE Research Institutes of Sweden were set to assist the academic researchers in some part of the project, he told Bio4Energy Communications in an online interview.

The invention of the new system was a way to create maximal resource efficiency, when it came to reusing organic waste and to “close the loop” so that no contaminants or waste are left at the end of operations, he further explained.

Tavajohi of and his research group have their own niche in the project and will add their expertise in separation and purification, something which is required in almost all chemical plants.

The researchers will come in after the first step of conversion of food or agricultural waste, which will produce volatile fatty acids, non-pure hydrogen and alcohols.

Making ‘green’ hydrogen

Their job will be to invent a completely new membrane process that separates carbon dioxide from hydrogen, which is competitively priced and renders a “green” hydrogen, completely bio-based and free of climate-change inducing gases and fossil resources.

The researchers also are responsible for proposing a process that can brought up to industrial scale. The bio-based hydrogen then is intended for use as fuel cells to power automotive transport.

There is a huge market demand for this type of process. At the same time, hydrogen production comes with challenges of scalability, storage, pricing and origin. Whether or not the hydrogen is of fossil-based origin is key.

“We will be using a bio-based polymer to make the membrane [and to ascertain] that the system is scalable and comes at an acceptable cost”, Tavajohi said.

He confirmed that at the end its four-year term, this project funded by the state-run the Swedish Research Council Formas will have been tested in large-scale research facilities.

“With this project we are moving from fossil sources to bio resources. We are approaching the zero-discharge concept. This means that all waste is taken care of [in the production of] biogas, fertilizers and bioplastics.

“If we have any waste, it will be because we don’t know how to use it”, according to Tavajohi.