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Novel Ceramic/Metallic Materials March 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Rob Edmonds

Ceramic Hollow-Fiber Membranes

By Rory Marrast
Marrast is a technology analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

The superior physical and chemical-resistivity properties of ceramics are very useful in a variety of filtering applications. Advances in filtration functionalities could see greater demand for ceramic hollow-fiber membranes in multiple industrial applications—for example, in wastewater processing and pharmaceutical filtering.

Description

Ceramic hollow-fiber membranes (CHFMs) are a type of membrane-distillation technology that facilitates fluid purification and contaminant filtration. Ceramic-filter technology is particularly attractive because of ceramic's mechanical stability, chemical stability, and thermal resistance. In comparison, nonceramic membrane filters—for example, polytetrafluoroethylene (its most common formulation is Teflon)—perform poorly at high temperatures. Thus, applications are limited.

Researchers from multiple institutes in Malaysia, Japan, and Indonesia—which includes the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia—have investigated the effectiveness of ceramic membranes for use in heavy-metal filtration. The researchers developed hydrophobic CHFMs by grafting hydrophobic surfaces onto the silica-based ceramic membranes. The researchers concluded that smaller membranes at high temperatures are optimal for membrane distillation.

Commercial demonstrations of ceramic-filtration apparatus also contribute to growing interest and further industry growth. CoorsTek (Golden, Colorado) and Deltapore (Gelderland, Netherlands) recently demonstrated that their alumina-based CHFMs are superior to centrifuge-filtration technologies in removing particles smaller than 2 microns from fluids. The feature will be useful for filtering fluids that particle buildup can contaminate, thus hampering their performance. One area of application that can benefit from CHFMs is the filtering of abrasive particles from coolant fluids in precision machines.

Implications

Ceramic-membrane filters are growing in both sophistication and range of applications. A combination of ceramic-membrane filters with other materials generates novel filters with advanced properties, such as hydrophobicity, which make them more applicable in demanding environments. However, alumina-based ceramic membranes have drawbacks because of their high sintering temperature, which requires prolonged processes, and the high cost of alumina powder. These drawbacks drive researchers to discover alternate ceramic materials for uses in membranes.

Impacts/Disruptions

Technavio expects the global ceramic-membrane market to grow by 12% compound annual growth rate until 2021. Water and wastewater applications make up 55% of the ceramic-membranes market. Transparency Market Research expects the Asia-Pacific region to dominate the ceramic-membranes market in 2025. Growth in the region's manufacturing will help drive the region's dominance in the market.

The current US trade war with China will likely contribute to an increase in materials importation from countries in the Asia region other than China. Also, US tariffs on Chinese fluoropolymer imports may increase the US price of polymeric membranes—such as polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF)—that utilize the material. Plausibly, upcoming investments may decide to target membrane materials that avoid fluoropolymer components.

Economic viability appears to outweigh membrane functionality, with many industries tending to select cheaper membranes. Technology breakthroughs that reduce the cost of ceramic membranes are key to market success. Today, polymeric-membrane solutions such as PVDF offer good chemical and mechanical resistivity more cheaply than do ceramic membranes.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Pharmaceuticals, wastewater, chemical processing

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Hydrogen-Storing MOFs

By Rory Marrast
Marrast is a technology analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Hydrogen gas can provide clean and renewable fuel to road vehicles. The storage limitation of hydrogen is one challenge that scientists need to overcome to help hydrogen-fueled vehicles compete with electric vehicles.

Description

Hydrogen fuel is an energy source that does not generate harmful emissions during combustions. However, because hydrogen is tiny, its resulting weak chemical interactions create challenges for storage. Hydrogen storage usually requires bulky and highly pressurized tanks.

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are crystalline porous sorbents that have predictable structures with very high surface areas. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report a world record for hydrogen storage using a nickel-based MOF under normal operating conditions. The nickel sites of the MOF anchor hydrogen in place by enhancing the chemical interaction between the MOF site and hydrogen. Researchers recorded a storage capacity of 11.9 grams of hydrogen per liter of MOF at 25°C and 100 bars of pressure. Typical hydrogen storage tanks contain at least 250 bars of pressure and maintain temperatures below –250°C.

Many major cities already use hydrogen vehicles. For example, Transport for London (TfL) in England already uses hydrogen buses to fulfill some local bus services. TfL plans to deploy more than 300 single-decker buses that will use electric or hydrogen fuel systems in a bid to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 200,000 tons a year. TfL also has contracts to Wrightbus (Ireland) and Van Hool (Belgium) to produce a minimum of 20 hydrogen fuel-cell buses by 2019. Bus-supplier Alexander Dennis (United Kingdom) is also expanding its current line of buses to include hydrogen fuel-cell buses.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has also promised an increase in the number of fully electric buses on Greater London roads. In general, electric vehicles tend to outcompete hydrogen-powered vehicles because of their lower price and well-established battery-recharging stations. However, the extended distances hydrogen-powered vehicles can travel without refueling may justify their greater expense: Hydrogen-powered vehicles could provide long-distance intercity coaches with zero emissions.

Implications

Effective solutions for zero-emissions transport systems will likely see demand in densely populated cities—but implementing hydrogen systems is challenging. Low-temperature and -pressure MOFs are likely to provide more affordable hydrogen-storage methods than are typical today and may lead to a growth in cities' implementing the technology in public transport. MOFs may also see applications in alternative low-emission technologies such as biomethane. Opportunities in hydrogen storage are vast and not solely confined to vehicles. For example, the MOF could store hydrogen for use in oil refining and in oxyhydrogen torches.

Impacts/Disruptions

Market Research Engine predicts the hydrogen-storage market to reach $1 billion by 2024. Storage of greater volumes of hydrogen in smaller tanks will likely propel commercial investment in hydrogen-storage technology. New opportunities for hydrogen-storage tanks in motorbikes and scooters may emerge if small storage tanks become commercially viable.

The deployment of MOF technology in conjunction with local law legislations will likely further zero-emission infrastructure development in major cities. Plausibly, hydrogen-refueling-station infrastructure could expand in conjunction with growing demand for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Renewable energy, town planning, electric vehicles

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: