a) Development of last generation separation technologies
The development of novel separation systems includes those that allow the recovery of different compounds present in mixtures (e.g., high added-value compounds) or the maximization of the production efficiency in equilibrium-based reactions (e.g., transesterification reactions). Membrane technology is the cornerstone of the recent research for challenging separations and it constitutes a large part of this research, combined with conventional separation techniques, such as distillation, in order to develop hybrid approaches. Examples of membrane systems are pervaporation for equilibrium-limited reactions (e.g., transesterification for methanol production) and separation of challenging mixtures (e.g., azeotropic mixtures, acetic acid-water), and the use of membrane contactors, such as membrane-based absorption and membrane crystallization, for the recovery of high-value compounds (e.g., pharmaceutical compounds), and CO2 capture and revalorization.
b) Evaluation of existing processes in the industry
The evaluation of conventional processes in the chemical industry (e.g., (hetero)azeotropic, pressure-swing, extractive distillation) involving chemical reactions and equilibrium, combined with separation processes (hybrid processes), is carried out by means of computational tools such as Aspen Engineering Suite. Results are used to evaluate the technical performance and maximize the efficiency by means of strategies based on simulation and optimization. In addition, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), essentially a cradle to grave analysis, is used to investigate environmental impacts of processes.
c) Application of thermodynamics from the molecular to the industrial scale
Therefore, for progress in applied thermodynamics, exergy analyses are combined with technical viability studies in order to evaluate the sustainability of current processes in the industry and the real applicability of new technologies.