Nowadays, the need and interest for renewable sources of energy has increased. Biogas is a renewable source of energy that can be considered as a sustainable substitute for natural gas. Biogas is mainly composed of CH4 and CO2, and normally the CO2 content of the gas has to be reduced as it decreases the calorific value of the gas and it may also cause corrosion in pipes and other equipment. Most today’s technologies used for upgrading biogas have been adapted from upgrading of natural gas. However, these technologies are best suited for large scale operation; whereas, production of biogas is typically several orders of magnitude smaller. This leads to high costs for removal of CO2 from biogas and consequently, new efficient technologies for upgrading biogas should be developed. Membrane-based separations are generally considered as energy efficient and are suitable for a wide range in scale of production due to their modular design. Zeolite membranes have been singled out as especially attractive membranes for gas separations. In this work, we therefore study separation of CO2 from CH4 and H2 using zeolite MFI membranes.
The performance of a high-silica (Si/Al ca. 139) MFI membrane for CO2/CH4 separation was investigated in a wide temperature range i.e. 245 K to 300 K. The separation factor increased with decreasing temperatures as is typically the case for adsorption governed separations. The highest separation factor observed was about 10 at 245 K. The CO2 permeance was very high in the whole temperature studied, varying from ca. 60 × 10-7 mol s-1 m -2 Pa-1 at the lowest temperature to about 90 × 10-7 mol s-1 m -2 Pa-1 at the highest temperature studied. The CO2 permeance was higher than that reported previously in the open literature for this separation. Modeling of the experimental data revealed that the membrane performance was adversely affected by pressure drop over the support, whereas the effect of concentration polarization was small. Removing the former effect would improve both the permeance and selectivity of the membrane.
In order to investigate the impact of the aluminum content on the performance of MFI membranes for the CO2/CH4 separation, MFI membranes with different Si/Al ratios were prepared. Increasing the aluminum content makes the zeolite II more polar which should increase the CO2/CH4 adsorption selectivity. Again the effect of temperature on the performance was investigated by varying the temperature in a range almost similar as above. Altering the Si/Al ratio in MFI zeolite membranes indeed changed the separation performances. At the lower temperatures the separation performance increased with increasing aluminum content in the zeolite as a result of larger adsorption selectivity. However, as the temperature was decreased, the selectivity of the membrane with the highest aluminum content went through a maximum, whereas for the other membranes the selectivity continued to increase with decreasing temperature under the conditions studied. At the same time, the CO2 permeances were high for all membranes studied and for the membrane with the highest selectivity, the CO2 permeance increased from 65 × 10-7 to 100 × 10-7 mol s-1 m -2 Pa-1 with increasing temperature.
High-silica MFI membranes were also evaluated for CO2/H2 separation, which is critical for syngas purification and H2 production. The highest CO2 permeance at the feed pressure of 9 bar was about 78 × 10-7 mol s-1 m -2 Pa-1 at around 300 K, which is one or two order of magnitude higher than those reported previously in the literature. By decreasing the temperature, separation factor reached its highest value of 165 at 235 K.
In summary, zeolite membranes show great potential for CO2 separation from industrial gases, in particular for CO2 removal from synthesis gas. For the CO2/CH4 separation the selectivity of the MFI membranes should be improved or other frameworks relying on molecular sieving e.g. the CHA framework should be explored.