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Frontiers of Chemical Science and Engineering

Front. Chem. Sci. Eng.    2020, Vol. 14 Issue (3) : 305-316
Pilot plants of membrane technology in industry: Challenges and key learnings
Colin A. Scholes()
Peter Cook Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage Research, Department of Chemical Engineering, The University of Melbourne, VIC, 3010, Australia
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Membrane technology holds great potential in gas separation applications, especially carbon dioxide capture from industrial processes. To achieve this potential, the outputs from global research endeavours into membrane technologies must be trialled in industrial processes, which requires membrane-based pilot plants. These pilot plants are critical to the commercialization of membrane technology, be it as gas separation membranes or membrane gas-solvent contactors, as failure at the pilot plant level may delay the development of the technology for decades. Here, the author reports on his experience of operating membrane-based pilot plants for gas separation and contactor configurations as part of three industrial carbon capture initiatives: the Mulgrave project, H3 project and Vales Point project. Specifically, the challenges of developing and operating membrane pilot plants are presented, as well as the key learnings on how to successfully manage membrane pilot plants to achieve desired performance outcomes. The purpose is to assist membrane technologists in the carbon capture field to achieve successful outcomes for their technology innovations.

Keywords membrane gas separation      membrane contactors      carbon capture      pilot plants      key learnings     
Corresponding Author(s): Colin A. Scholes   
Just Accepted Date: 18 September 2019   Online First Date: 08 November 2019    Issue Date: 28 April 2020
 Cite this article:   
Colin A. Scholes. Pilot plants of membrane technology in industry: Challenges and key learnings[J]. Front. Chem. Sci. Eng., 2020, 14(3): 305-316.
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Fig.1  Schematic of the membrane gas-solvent contactor process for CO2 separation from flue gas (post-combustion capture).
Mulgrave H3 Vales Point
Feed/(kg CO2·d–1) 6 50 120
Pressure/(kPa·g) 698.7 50 50
Gas Composition/mol-%
CO2 16.2 12.0 10.9
N2 63.2 80.5 78.7
O2 7.5 8.6
H2 9.8
CO 6.7 246 ppm
CH4 2.8
Minor components H2S, C2+ SOx, NOx SOx, NOx, HF
Tab.1  Average feed gas conditions and composition (dry basis) of the Mulgrave, H3 and Vales Point projects
Pilot plant Membrane type Membrane material Module configuration
Mulgrave Gas separation Polydimethylsiloxane Asymmetric flat sheet
Polyethylene glycol Asymmetric flat sheet
PEBAX Asymmetric flat sheet
Carbon Porous composite flat sheet
Matrimid Asymmetric hollow fibre
Polysulfone Asymmetric hollow fibre
Contactor Polypropylene Porous hollow fibre
Polydimethylsiloxane Non-porous hollow fibre
H3 Gas separation Polysulfone Hollow fibre
Polypiperazine amide Spiral wound
Contactor Polypropylene Porous hollow fibre
Polydimethylsiloxane Non-porous hollow fibre
Vales Point Contactor Polyethylene Non-porous Spiral wound
Polydimethylsiloxane Composite non-porous hollow fibre
Tab.2  Membrane type, materials and module configuration trialled as part of the Mulgrave, H3 and Vales Point projects
Fig.2  Photographs of membrane pilot plants of the Mulgrave, H3 and Vales Point projects.
Fig.3  (a) Rotameter fouling in downstream lines and (b) oversized commercial heat exchanger sized for Vales Point project operation.
Fig.4  Scale of the membranes tested at the Mulgrave, H3 and Vales Point pilot plants.
Fig.5  Membrane contactor module housing failures due to solvent degradation.
Fig.6  Fluctuations in the feed gas pressure (kPa) at the (a) Mulgrave, (b) H3 and (c) Vales Point projects over different time scales. The dashed lines in (a) correspond to periodic breaks in operation.
Fig.7  Differential pressure across the membrane contactor over time at the H3 project for solvent inlet (black) and solvent outlet (grey) (reproduced with permission from [31]).
Fig.8  Ash build-up on membrane modules at the H3 project for (a) the membrane contactor and (b) gas separation membrane.
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