Researchers at the University of Texas in Arlington have filed a provisional patent application for a new copper compound that can be used to purify food for use as raw material in the production of plastics such as polyethylene or PVC, as well as other industrial compounds.
Ethylene is produced from crude oil but is usually obtained as a mixture containing ethane. Manufacturing processes using ethylene usually require pure or 99.9 percent ethylene feed space.
"The existing technology for separating food and ethane uses huge amounts of energy and requires high capital investment," said Rasika Dias, UTA's outstanding professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
"Our new technology uses a copper compound that can selectively absorb ethylene in the solid state and leave the ethane with the least possible energy price," he added.
The ethylene absorption of the newly discovered copper complex is easily reversible, so that the absorbed ethene can then be released and recycled using mild temperature or pressure changes, resulting in regeneration of the starter copper complex, which can be reused several times.
"Therefore, our new technology is both very durable and highly energy efficient and can be a real breakthrough in the separation of olefins such as ethylene and propylene from paraffins, currently accounting for 0.3 percent of global energy use, approximately equivalent to Singapore's annual energy consumption, says Dias.
The researchers have reported their new technology in the international magazine Applied Chemistry, in the article "Low network heat of adsorption of ethylene achieved by greater solid state-structural rearrangement of a discrete copper complex." The paper describes how the release of a very low level of heat during the absorption process is the result of the accompanying structural conversion of the copper complex upon exposure to ethylene.
Fred MacDonnell, UTA's Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry, congratulated Dias on the development of this new technology.
"Dr. Dias and his colleagues have taken the challenge of improving one of the most relevant chemical separations, and one that is needed for several industrial processes and the production of products used in our daily lives," said MacDonnell. "It can have very important consequences for the costs of producing these goods, and also radically improve environmental impact by reducing the heat emitted in the atmosphere."
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