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Ultra-Thin Membranes for Biofuels Production

University of Minnesota (UMN)
Flexible Molecular Sieve Membranes
Ultra-thin membranes for biofuels production
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$1,765,334
Location: 
Minneapolis, MN
Project Term: 
03/22/2013 to 09/21/2016
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
The U.S. relies almost exclusively on petroleum-based fuels to power its cars, trucks, and planes. Fossil fuels from petroleum are subject to price instabilities that impact consumers. Biofuels produced domestically from biomass are a promising alternative. However, the methods used to turn biomass into fuel are currently too costly and inefficient to result in commercially viable alternatives to fossil fuels.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
The University of Minnesota (UMN) is developing an ultra-thin separation membrane to decrease the cost of producing biofuels, plastics, and other industrial materials. Nearly 6% of total U.S. energy consumption comes from the energy used in separation and purification processes. Today's separation methods used in biofuels production are not only energy intensive, but also very expensive. UMN is developing a revolutionary membrane technology based on a recently discovered class of ultra-thin, porous, materials that will enable energy efficient separations necessary to prepare biofuels that would also be useful in the chemical, petrochemical, water purification, and fossil fuel industries. These membranes, made from nanometer-thick layers of silicon dioxide, are highly selective in separating nearly-identical chemicals and can handle high flow rates of the chemicals. When fully developed, these membranes could substantially reduce the amount and cost of energy required in the production of biofuels and many other widely used industrial chemicals.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, UMN's ultra-thin membranes would reduce total U.S. energy consumption by as much as 3%, resulting in substantial cost savings for both manufacturers and consumers.
Security: 
Increasing production of domestic biofuels could reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil by 33% within 15 years.
Environment: 
Widespread use of biofuels and reducing energy use in the plastics industry has the potential to conserve large amounts of oil, millions of tons of coal, and reduce millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next several decades.
Economy: 
Widespread use of biofuels could help reduce and stabilize gas prices for consumers.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Eric Rohlfing
Project Contact: 
Dr. Michael Tsapatsis
Release Date: 
11/28/2012