On 16th of November 2022, I participated in a mini-symposium on affinity separations, organised by NL-GUTS, at the Chemical Engineering Labs of Technical University Delft. The symposium was a combination of lectures and a tour through the chemical engineering laboratories. Here is my high level summary of what I saw and heard on two subjects: A novel way of performing process technology research and a novel way of transferring technologies between the pharma, food, chemicals, catalyst, and fuel industries.

New way of process technology research at fume cupboard scale

The laboratory set-ups of the PhD students (Monique van Veen, David Vermaas, and others) are all in fume cupboards on a tiny scale. The key technical object, be it an electrolysis cell, or a porous catalyst slab, has the size of a few milli-meter to a few centi-meter. The experimental is set-up is directly focussed on making the process technologies efficient for instance by studying mass transfer limitations and try to reduce them. Furthermore, advanced measuring methods are used to measure rapidly and accurately several key features related to the process technology efficiency. In one set-up for instance carbon dioxide is converted to carbon monoxide using an electrochemical cell. The gas bubble sizes and vibrations are observed with a high speed camera, while also the electro-over-potential over the cell is measured. The latter is related to the process energy efficiency. The bubble movements reduce the mass transfer limitation and reduce the over potential; hence, increase the electrical efficiency. This new way of process technology research on a tiny scale, directly addressing key aspects for efficiency and scale-up augur rapid break-through technologies.

New way of transferring technologies over process industry branches

The lab-scale research of the Chemical Engineering department is for applications in pharma, catalyst, chemicals, and fuels. Monolayer coating on powders for instance is applied for inhalers in pharma and for catalysts in the catalyst industry.

The presentations in the mini symposium also showed this technology transfer. Here are two examples:

Jan Bart Kok of Velia presented oil (dispersed and dissolved) separation from water using porous polypropylene particles. The original idea was developed by AKZONOBEL (chemicals) and then picked up by Veolia (water treatment technologies) who did the scale-up and technology supply. Oil and Gas companies now purchase this technology to clean contaminated water.

Marcel Raedts of PROXCYS presented macromolecules separation with radial chromatography columns. The original application is used in pharma for removing specific molecules from blood plasma. Now the technology is also used to separate specific macromolecules from food by-product streams for the food industry.