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- 02/28/2017

Producing much more with much less Vito offers competitive alternatives for the process industry

Chimica Oggi-Chemistry Today

To remain profitable, the process industry must reinvent its production methods. Lower consumption of energy and other resources are an absolute necessity. VITO develops innovative technologies to support the industry in attaining their goals, by focusing on process intensification. VITO has state-of-the-art test infrastructure for water and organic solvents, at lab and pilot scale and conducts techno-economic feasibility studies.

50 To 90 % Lower Energy costs

Industrial processes often involve complex separation steps. On the one hand, VITO offers solutions for downstream processing in which target molecules are purified to a final product in successive steps. On the other hand, VITO works on the integration of separation and conversion. In each case, membranes are key to reducing energy costs. In comparison with conventional processes such as evaporation and distillation, membranes are much less energy-intensive, since separations generally take place at room temperature, without the different components undergoing a phase transition. Applying membrane technology, energy costs can be reduced by 50 to 90 %. Moreover, higher product quality is obtained for temperature-sensitive molecules. Also, the compactness and the possibility of scaling up a modular system are major industrial benefits of membranes.

Optimization with Vid Technology

Certain chemical reactions suffer from inhibition. When this takes place, high concentrations of substrate can lead to the formation of undesirable by products, with reduced yield and lower product quality as a result. Therefore these vulnerable reactions are often performed in a highly-diluted medium. Drawback is the need for large quantities of solvent and bulky reactors to create small amounts of a final product, for example 6 000 liters of solvent for only 50 kilograms of product. VITO’s patented VID technology (Volume Intensified Dilution) integrates membranes directly in the process, so that more product can be made with smaller reactors and less solvent. VID makes inhibited reactions much more efficient by reproducing a diluted reaction mixture in a smaller reaction vessel. Sending the reaction mixture over a membrane enables the solvent reuse. Some reactions benefit from efficiency increases of more than 80 %.

Cheaper with Funmem® Membranes

VITO developed with the UAntwerp a new generation of functional membranes with the patented FunMem® platform. It allows separations based on affinity, not just based on size. An interesting application is the removal of impurities from APIs. Another example is the separation of catalysts from the production process, enabling reuse. For example, VITO succeeded in recovering palladium, a widely used catalyst. Another example is chiral separation which currently happens with chromatography. This is expensive and time consuming, requires much solvent and is detrimental to the environment. VITO examines chiral separations using specific FunMem® membranes. A test case proved that membrane separation is economically viable if the right membranes are combined. It’s promising for the pharmaceutical and chemical industry.