Membrane research


Membranes for gas separation and osmotic processes

The membrane research programs have extensive activities both on basic membrane material development, as well as membrane gas separation processes, modelling and simulations. The main focus for the research is CO2 capture by membranes (from flue gas, natural gas sweetening, biogas upgrading) and hydrogen recovery from various mixed gas streams. In addition to these energy focused gas applications, there is also ongoing research on membranes for chlorine separation. The membrane materials in focus are various types of polymers, nano-composites, carbon membranes, and modified glass membranes.

The international network is extensive, with co-operation both within EU-projects, USA, Japan, the Nordic countries and Russia.


Brief description of sample gas separation projects:

a) EU FP6 project NaturalHy

The project involves about 40 partners, and the main idea is to investigate the possibility of using the European gas network for co-transport of hydrogen with natural gas. Realising that the society only slowly will convert to hydrogen based energy, the idea is that hydrogen may be injected into the gas net at various places where it is produced, and then separated from the natural gas at points along the line where pure hydrogen is needed (e.g. for fuel cells). The task into which Memfo is doing research, is development of a suitable membrane for hydrogen recovery. Carbon molecular sieve membranes are investigated for this purpose. One post doc is engaged in the research, and very promising results have been documented. The project continues for 1 more year. The project co-ordinator is Gasunie in the Netherlands.


b) KMB RENERGI / NFR project CEPEME Membrane development for selective CO2 capture

The membrane material being developed in this project contains a specific "carrier" which makes it selective for CO2 while other gas components are being retained. The material is based on a polymer containing fixed amine groups as carriers. A significant progress has been achieved during the last couple of years, both with respect to CO2-flux and selectivity compared to the other components in a mixed gas. The obtained results have drawn international attention. The membrane is patented, and there are big expectations for the further development; for CO2 capture from coal fired or gas fired power plants as well as other CO2 containing gas streams. The project ended in 2008. Preparation for small scale pilot scale testing is now being done. One research scientist and one PhD student have been working on the project. A focus on process development has also been initiated. Project partners further are NFR and StatoilHydro; negotiations with membrane producers are ongoing for the scale up. There is also interest from industry on other applications where CO2 is present in the gas stream (natural gas sweetening, CO2 removal from anaesthetic gas).


c) EU FP6 project NanoGloWa

The project started November 2006 and is focusing on "Nano-structured membranes against Global Warming" (NanoGloWa). Memfo is a major partner in the project; task leader for two work packages focusing on development of carbon membranes and polymeric materials for CO2 capture from power plants. The project also includes spinning of hollow fibres, module development and durability tests. One Post.doc. and one PhD student were attached to the project in 2008. The project coordinbator is KEMA in The Netherlands.


d) EU FP7 project DECARBit

The project is coordinated by Sintef and had kick-off in Feb 2008. The focus is pre-combustion separation of CO2 and H2 at high temperatures (>300°C). Carbon membranes are being tailored for this separation. The project also includes module development and durability tests. The project coordinator is SINTEF Energy



The project started late 2007. The objective is CO2 removal from high pressure natural gas streams using a polymeric blend membrane; using as one of the polymers in the blend the patented PVAm facilitated transport membrane. The project includes material development, pilot construction, durability tests and simulations. The main challenge in this project is the performance at high pressures (> 100 bar). Special restrictions for HMS is needed in this operating range.

Industrial partner is StatoilHydro.


f) KMB NANOMAT / NFR project development of nanocomposite membranes

These projects are in cooperation with Sintef and North Carolina State University. The material development for hydrogen – CO2 separation are in focus. There were one PhD-student on the US-side; one PhD and one Post doc on the NTNU-side. The materials studied at NTNU were nano-composites (mixed matrix of high free volume polymers and nanoparticles) and block copolymers on the US-side – very challenging research work. Within this project a NASA award was granted during 2005 for a US patent. The project ended in 2008.


g) FP / NFR Development of hybrid membrane for chlorine purification

Memfo is one of very few groups in the world doing research on membranes for the purification of chlorine gas. This is probably for security and safety reasons, and the challenge of handling this poisonous gas. The project is extremely challenging, but if successful, it will be a major step towards simplification of expensive and complicated unit operations for recovery of chlorine from various process streams. Chlorine is one of the major chemicals used in chemical process industry worldwide. The materials in focus are glass and perfluorinated polymers. There is co-operation with Japanese research in this project. Small steps forward have been documented during 2008, and one post doc finished his work on this project in 2008. There is a major interest from industry in this project.


Brief description of a sample liquid separation project

KMB NANOMAT / NFR project: Membranes for osmotic processes – POPMOP

Reverse osmosis is today one of the major methods for desalting ocean water into freshwater. Osmotic effects demands that a high pressure on the saltwater side of the membrane modules must be applied to override the osmotic pressure difference between sea water and freshwater. If the applied pressure in the cells is lower than the osmotic pressure the water flow is reversed and freshwater flows into the saltwater compartment, thus increasing the volume of moderately pressurized saltwater. This is the principle of Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO), which may be used to produce electric energy as the surplus water on the saltwater side may be run through turbines for power production. The potential for power production at the outlet of every river that flows into the ocean is very large.

Towards the end of 2007 Memfo was granted a KMB project from Nanomat/NFR supported by Aqualyng, Statkraft and StatoilHydro. The project is aiming at studying and optimizing the synthesis of polymers for

osmotic processes. This development includes both optimisation of the support membrane as well as the thin film membrane itself. Two PhD students and one research scientist have been working on the project in 2008



The Memfo researchers work very much as a team in addition to be dedicated to individual projects. Hence the simulation of processes is handled whenever needed by those who have the competence. Likewise; the concern for environmental issues, leads to the focus also on biogas upgrading to vehicle fuel quality (biomethane). Carbon membranes has proved to be suitable for upgrading of biogas; documented by experiments and discussed in publications.

A collaboration with University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Tanzania, has resulted in a project funded by NUFU. The focus is on bioenergy; with certain aspects of the production of bioethanol and biodiesel from local raw materials. There are 2 PhDs at UDSM and 1 at NTNU attached to this project.

There are several well equipped laboratories available for the membrane research; both for membrane material development as well as membrane characterization. The membrane research on CCS is especially strong, and completes the research on CCS activities in collaboration within the environment and reactor group.

A spin-off company from the research on carbon molecular sieve membranes was established in 2008 with the support of the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) at NTNU. The name of the company is MemfoACT (= Membranes for Advanced Clean Technology)