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Membrane Permeation Testing System

National Energy Technology Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

A simple and rapid method for the screening of the permeability and selectivity of membranes for gas separation has been developed. A high throughput membrane testing system permits simultaneous evaluation of multiple membranes under conditions of moderate pressure and temperature for both pure gases and gas mixtures. The modular design, on-line sample analysis, and automation-competence of the technology provides a cost-effective approach to identify the optimal membrane for a given gas separation application. This technology is available for licensing and/or further collaborative research with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.



Membranes have demonstrated tremendous potential for a large variety of applications, in particular, gas separation. Membranes are ideally suited for gas separation, offering numerous technical and economic advantages over competing technologies. Membranes can be designed to withstand harsh conditions (i.e., high temperatures and pressures) and chemical contaminants, have low energy requirements due to lack of phase transitions, provide single-step separation, and are modular and scalable. Perhaps the greatest asset of membranes is their mechanical simplicity. Membranes have no moving parts and unlike other technologies, require minimal operator skill, attention, and maintenance, making them very cost-effective.

Membrane technologies can be tailored for numerous types of gas separation such as the generation of hydrogen from syngas or oxygen for oxyfuel combustion, the removal of carbon dioxide from coal power plant flue gas or in natural gas sweetening, and the separation of methane from other biogas components. Membranes can be made from a vast array of organic or inorganic materials including metals, ceramics, polymers, liquids, and crystalline materials. The huge variety of membrane applications and materials, coupled with the need to evaluate membrane performance under diverse operating conditions make selecting the ideal membrane a daunting task. Such evaluation is both laborious and time-consuming. Thus, there is a significant need to thoroughly evaluate a large number of candidate membranes for any given application in a timely and cost-effective manner.

In response, a high throughput membrane testing system has been developed by NETL researchers. The system employs a specially-designed cell block which holds up to 16 cartridge-contained, planar membranes for parallel analysis via the constant pressure membrane testing technique. Briefly, at a given temperature, membranes are exposed to a flow of constant pressure gas (mixed or pure) on one side of the membrane (feed side) and a flow of constant pressure inert gas on the other side of the membrane (sweep side). Use of the ‘sweep gas’ on the back side of the membrane allows higher pressure testing with a lower pressure drop across the membrane, preventing membrane rupture. During testing, the pressure of the feed and sweep streams are monitored and samples of the retentate (i.e., the stream of gas leaving the feed side of the membrane) and permeate streams are automatically withdrawn for on-line analysis of flow rate and composition. Importantly, the modular design of the system permits simultaneous evaluation of a near infinite number of membranes by simply adding more 16-bay cell blocks.


• Cost-effective approach as a large number of membranes can be simultaneously evaluated using a single instrument

• Testing is simple, requiring minimal operator ‘hands-on’ time as membranes are loaded into easily-removable cartridges, sampling is done on-line, and the system is fully automation-competent

• Both pure and mixed feed gases can be employed at diverse pressures and temperatures to mimic a large variety of gas separation conditions

Applications and Industries

• Rapid screening and testing of prospective membranes materials for gas separation applications

• Efficient evaluation of candidate membranes for liquid separation applications

More Information

U.S. Non-Provisional Patent Application 13/629,733; titled "Constant Pressure High Throughput Membrane Permeation Testing System"; filed September 28, 2012.

Inventor(s): David R. Luebke, David P. Hopkinson and Erik J. Albenze

Technology Status
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