Early last month, Cargill and Osmonics received a five-year, $3.75-million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program (ATP) to help finance the development of solvent-resistant membrane systems for separation applications that currently rely on energy-intensive distillation. Membranes typically require less than 10% as much energy as distillation. Osmonics will focus on technology development of the membranes and membrane systems, and collaborate with Cargill on commercial application of those systems.
The first application will be in the processing of edible oils in the food industry.
"Using membrane technology in oilseed processing provides several benefits," said Cargill's Dr. H. S. Muralidhara, assistant vice president and manager, Process Technology. "It will reduce the amount of wastewater used in manufacturing, reduce air emissions, and use less energy than other separation methods. It also will provide significant cost savings compared to traditional vegetable oils processing technologies."
Challenges facing the project team include designing membrane elements to aid change-out and cleaning. "With water-based systems, water gets everywhere when operators change out or clean fouled membrane elements," said Muraldihara. "For solvent-based applications, we will have to develop enclosed modules to ensure safety, as well as new cleaning technologies that allow us to remove contaminants from the membrane surface in-line." In addition, the team will need to overcome challenges inherent to non-aqueous applications. "The membranes must maintain the ability to separate target components while operating in the organic solvents and high temperatures found in many industrial processes. These applications can also present a wide range of viscosities and chemical compatibilities," said Steven Kloos, Ph.D., Osmonics' Group Leader of Membrane Development.
Additional applications of the new membrane systems will be in pharmaceutical and petrochemical processing.
Osmonics and Cargill will collaborate with the University of Kentucky Research Foundation to perform modeling studies, and the Center for Interfacial Engineering at the University of Minnesota to provide analytical expertise for membrane characterization.
ATP is a government-sponsored program that helps stimulate commercialization of technologies developed by U.S. companies. Cargill is an international marketer, processor, and distributor of agricultural, food, financial, and industrial products.
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