January 13, 2023
Journal Article

Methodology for Assessing the Maximum Potential Impact of Separations Opportunities in Industrial Processes


Separation technologies used in current US manufacturing industries are estimated to account for more than 20% of plant energy. However, ascertaining the impact of new separation technology solutions can sometimes be difficult, especially when evaluating a slate of new candidate separation technologies, each with its own separation performance, energy demands, and capital costs. In these cases, a typical approach is to assess each new separation technology by collecting the performance and cost information, then rolling that information into some form of techno-economic analysis to assess overall benefits. While these approaches are thorough, they can be time-consuming and can also impede critical understanding of the possible opportunity for a given separation challenge, especially when there is no known solution. To address this issue, an assessment methodology was developed to better understand the potential impacts of addressing a given separation challenge. The methodology leverages steps commonly used in industrial screening. An overview of the separation challenge stream assessment methodology is presented. This includes the definition of and “ideal” separator and the derivation of the associated minimum separation energy. The “ideal” separator represents the most liberal outlook on a given opportunity such that the maximum impact from existing and not-yet-developed solutions can be assessed. The methodology was then applied to 10 different separation challenges streams from two different biomass conversion platforms, with established biorefinery models, to convey the type of information that can be gleaned. Three of the ten challenge streams assessed had maximum possible cost savings predictions greater than 20%, and associated reductions in process energy carbon intensity ranging from 0 to 54%, while two had cost and energy savings potential less than 5%. Some of the opportunity drivers from the various assessments include higher product yields, reductions or eliminations of downstream equipment, new co-products, raw material savings as well energy savings. The information from these assessments can help guide the selection or development of new separation technology solutions based on the various potential factors driving the projected benefits.

Published: January 13, 2023


Liu J., J. Dempsey, S. Li, Y. Jiang, L.J. Snowden-Swan, W.L. Kubic, and E. Tan, et al. 2022. Methodology for Assessing the Maximum Potential Impact of Separations Opportunities in Industrial Processes. Frontiers in Sustainability 3. PNNL-SA-178090. doi:10.3389/frsus.2022.1056580