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Gas separation

Gas separation

Gas mixtures can be effectively separated by synthetic membranes. For other methods see adsorption, absorption, cryogenic distillation. Membranes are employed in:

  • separation of hydrogen from gases like nitrogen and methane
  • recovery of hydrogen from product streams of ammonia plants
  • recovery of hydrogen in oil refinery processes
  • separation of methane from biogas
  • enrichment of air by oxygen for medical or metallurgical purposes
  • removal of water vapor from natural gas
  • removal of CO2 from natural gas
  • removal of H2S from natural gas
  • removal of volatile organic liquids (VOL) from air of exhaust streams
  • desiccation

Usually nonporous polymeric membranes are utilized. There, vapours and gases are separated due to their different solubility and diffusivity in polymers. Polymers in glassy state, generally more effective for separation, predominantly differentiate in diffusivity. Small molecules of penetrants move among polymer chains according to the formation of local gaps by thermal motion of polymer segments. Free volume of the polymer, its distribution and local changes of distribution are of the utmost importance. Then diffusivity of a penetrant depends mainly on the size of its molecule.

Porous membranes can also be utilized for the gas separation. The pores diameter must be smaller than the mean free path of gas molecules. Under normal condition (100 kPa, 300 K) it is about 50 nm. Then the gas flux through the pore is proportional to molecules velocity i.e. inversely proportional to square root of the molecule mass. It is known as Knudsen diffusion. Gas flux through a porous membrane is much higher than through nonporous one – 3 to 5 orders of magnitude. Separation efficiency is moderate – hydrogen passes 4 times faster than oxygen. Porous polymeric or ceramic membranes for ultrafiltration serve the purpose. Note, in case the pores are larger than the limit then viscous flow occurs, hence no separation.

In special cases other materials can be utilized. Palladium membrane permits transport solely of hydrogen –

References

  • Vieth W.R., Diffusion in and through Polymers, Hanser Verlag, Munich, 1991.

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