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Revolutionary membrane will reduce costs of refining oil and natural gas

Hands in surgical gloves hold a clear plastic membrane

Photo: Dwight Look College of Engineering

Researchers at the Dwight Look College of Engineering have developed a “game-changing” gas separation membrane that will make it easier and cheaper to extract impurities from crude oil or natural gas.

Associate professors Jaime C. Grunlan and Benjamin A. Wilhite  published their findings recently in the journal Advanced Materials,  under the title “Highly size-selective ionically crosslinked multilayer polymer films for light gas separation.” They have also filed for a patent.

The membrane that Grunlan and Wilhite have developed is a layer-by-layer polymer coating that is composed of alternating individual layers of common, low-cost polyelectrolytes.

The coating can be made by dipping or spraying, making it very easy to apply to existing gas separation systems. These films separate molecules based on size, the smaller ones such as hydrogen pass through, while larger ones such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen are slowed down.