How to save energy while producing a key component for most plastics

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Propylene has many commercial purposes, including being a key compound in more than two thirds of the world’s plastics. The central focus of the research team led by Hae-Kwon Jeong, associate professor of chemical engineering, is an optimal isolation of propylene from the natural compound propane.

“There is a huge demand for propylene, but to separate these gas molecules takes a lot of energy,” Jeong said. A recent study shows finds by 2023 the amount of intentional global propylene production will grow from 90 million tons to 130 million tons.

Jeong’s method of counter diffusion involves individual applications of metal ions and organic ligands (linkers that bond to the metal) to the support or film, as opposed to using a mixture to coat the film. The high metal ion concentration is inside the film while the ligands remain highly concentrated outside of the film and counter diffuse in different directions.

“The objective is to be able to make small, thin films in a rapid manner, but also to be able to make the grain boundary very intimate,” said Jeong.

This technique is not only more efficient, but also more environmentally friendly because fewer carbon-based fuels are required for distillation.

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