The EASICHEM project is a VLAIO – Catalisti – cSBO funded project. Our research group leads the working package on the development of a decision support toolkit for the reduction of market risk for novel affinity separation processes.
Many chemical companies are nowadays confronted with very challenging liquid separations, aiming at separating molecules with very similar physical properties. The current trend towards more bio-based and/or highly-tailored chemicals, will only increase the number of these demanding separations. These challenges would benefit from efficient Affinity Separations (AS). The most traditional AS technology is liquid-liquid extraction, where the extracting solvent acts as the separation agent. The most selective AS is liquid chromatography, driven by the affinity between molecules and a functionalised stationary phase, the separation material. Although successful in different situations, both AS processes have important drawbacks. EASiCHEM aims at tackling these limitations, by developing more efficient, and/or more sustainable AS processes, focusing on two promising, energy-poor liquid separation technologies: 1. Membrane-based AS processes: bringing the selectivity of chromatography to membrane separations, using functionalised ceramic membranes tailored to match the separation problem at hand; 2. Continuous chromatography: tackling the main disadvantage of selective chromatography, making use of a membrane-contactor-like design at microreactor scale. The work programme is intended to extensively explore, understand and benchmark the capabilities and limitations of the new AS processes using a myriad of functionalized ceramic materials. The experimental work is designed to correlate adsorptive interactions to material properties and performance, and to reveal similarities between membrane and chromatography processes. Comprehensive and predictive models will be developed and will allow to steer further experiments. The potential of the new AS processes will be explored in a variety of industrially-relevant separation cases suggested by an industrial Advisory Board, allowing to define their operation windows, and to make a proper techno-economic evaluation. Final aim is to derive (a first) effective decision tree connecting each specific separation problem at hand with the best AS process. To ensure the realization of these challenging objectives, an equilibrated consortium of 7 (academic) partners, with the right, complementary expertise, strengthened by previous relevant experience, and strong mutual collaboration, has been composed.