August 22, 2016

2 Min Read
New Technology Could Help Reduce Plastic Manufacturing Emissions
An image of the new technology and process developed by ExxonMobil and Georgia Tech. Image courtesy of ExxonMobil

Researchers from ExxonMobil and the Georgia Institute of Technology created a new technology that possibly reduces energy use and emissions in plastics manufacturing, the company announced Aug. 18.

The team of scientists developed a new process using a molecular-level filter to separate paraxylene, a material used to produce plastics, from mixtures of hydrocarbons. ExxonMobil said in a press release that if the technology were deployed on an industrial scale annual carbon dioxide emissions could be cut by about 45 million tons each year – just about the level of carbon dioxide generated by 5 million homes in the US.

“If advanced to commercial-scale application, this technology could significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with chemical manufacturing,” said Vijay Swarup, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil, in a statement.

In the study paraxylene was removed from chemical compounds when the researchers pressed them though a carbon-based membrane using a form of reverse osmosis. The new process is a cheaper alternative to crystallization or adsorption separation processes, which uses high amounts of energy to complete.

“In effect, we’d be using a filter with microscopic holes to do what an enormous amount of heat and energy currently do in a chemical process similar to that found in oil refining,” Mike Kirby, corporate strategic research manager at ExxonMobile, said in a statement.

The ExxonMobile-Georgia Tech research team said the new filtering process uses about 50 times less energy than present membrane separation technology. While the results of the research, which were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, are encouraging, the company said it faces some challenges in commercializing the technology.  ExxonMobil said the membrane needs to be tested in a variety of conditions and using a variety of organic compounds. The research team is also working on methods to produce the membrane consistently and provide evidence that the technology can endure heavy industrial use.

“The implications could be enormous in terms of the amount of energy that could be save and the emissions reduced in chemical and product manufacturing,” said Benjamin McCool, a co-author of the research and an advanced research associate with ExxonMobil. “Our next steps are to further the fundamental understanding in the lab to help develop a plan for pilot plant-scale demonstration and, if successful, proceed to larger scale. We continue to work the fundamental science underlying this technology for broader applications in hydrocarbon separations.”

For related articles, news, and equipment reviews, visit our Equipment Zones

Sign up for the Powder & Bulk Solids Weekly newsletter.

You May Also Like