Reducing pollution by separating gases

Every time you drive past a large factory, you instinctively increase the pressure on the accelerator pedal in order to quickly move out of the pollution zone, right? “Pollution” (from industries, automobiles, etc) means different things to different people and is due to several components, but a major gas that has been the centre of attention in recent years is carbon dioxide, because of its alleged role in global warming.

Surendra Sasi Kumar Jampa of the IITB-Monash Research Academy, is working on a project titled ‘Polymeric and mixed matrix membranes for gas separation’ an important aim of which is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from Industrial flue gases.

Sasi Kumar is confident that his work will eventually lead to the reduction of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide which are major contributors to global warming.

Smoke from the plant mixing into the atmosphere

Established in 2008, the IITB-Monash Research Academy is an important collaboration between Australia and India. It offers graduate research scholars the opportunity to study for a dually-badged PhD from both IIT Bombay in India and Monash University in Australia, spending time in both countries over the course of their research.

Sasi Kumar points out, “Membrane gas separation is an important unit operation in industries for pollution control as well as enrichment of valuable gas components in an environmental-friendly way.”

The reduction in power consumption on moving machinery makes membrane separation highly suitable for off shore plants. The gas separation applications include oxygen enrichment, natural gas sweetening, hydrogen recovery and olefin–paraffin recovery, as membranes can be arranged in compact modules which can be easily integrated into the existing plants at high system capacities.

TEM-ZIF-8 High Resolution Image using HR TEM imaging facility in Chem Engg Dept , SEM- ZIF-8 High resolution image using FEG-SEM imaging facility in central facility in IITB, XRD-Imaging of ZIF-8 using x-ray diffraction facility in Physics Dept IITB

A recent interest in membrane materials is to use particles for improvement of properties. Since the fabrication of mixed matrix membranes (MMMs) (as such membranes are called) with a good adhesion between polymer and nano particles like zeolites, carbon, etc. is crucial to achieve optimum transport properties and mechanical strength, Sasi Kumar’s main challenge is to provide good compatibility between nanoparticle (molecular sieve materials) and polymer to reach optimum and defect-free transport properties.

“The research that is carried out at the IITB-Monash Research Academy is along thematic lines. This was a deliberate choice. The research themes represent key national research priorities of both India and Australia. We must address important research questions in areas such as Clean Energy, Water, and Infrastructure development which are vital for progress in both countries,” says Prof Murli Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Sasi Kumar is excited about the possibilities that his research throws up. “Improving compatibility allows us look into the molecular level of polymers as well as molecular sieves, which makes my work extremely challenging,” he says. Under the guidance of his supervisors Prof A K Suresh and Prof Wang Huanting, he has so far been able to synthesise ZIF-8 (zeolitic imidazolate framework), and hopes to incorporate it within the membrane for testing. He has also been able to generate carbon particles in the membrane which has increased the purity (selectivity) of a gas while maintaining the production rate (permeability or flux).

The benefits of Sasi Kumar’s research project are far-reaching. After all, wouldn’t we all want to live in a pollution-free world?

Research scholar: Surendra Sasi Kumar Jampa, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Polymeric and mixed matrix membranes for gas separation

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This story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student and IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.