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Sankar Nair, Georgia Institute for Technology
Host: Prof. Nikolai DeMartini
This lecture will discuss our progress in developing materials-based separation processes for biorefinery applications. The discussion will be centered on the kraft process, which is a high-volume biorefining process that currently yields biopolymer (cellulose), biobased chemical (such as tall oil), and bioenergy (steam and electricity) products. The main byproduct of the process – kraft black liquor – is dewatered by energy-intensive multi-effect evaporation, followed by combustion of the concentrated black liquor to produce steam and electricity. However, black liquor is a potential high-volume feedstock (available at > 1 billion tons/yr in kraft processes) for chemical production because it contains lignin and hydroxy acid fractions.
We will highlight the key role of advanced separation processes in increasing the energy efficiency of the kraft process as well as enabling valorization of stream components. The discussion is placed in the context of three interconnected issues. First, we will illustrate the importance of imagining biorefineries as an interconnected network of conversion and separation processes, and the possibility for materials-based separations to enable new ways of dewatering black liquor as well as valorizing black liquor components such as hydroxy acids and lignin. Second, we will illustrate the differing separation challenges encountered in stream fractionation versus product purification, both of which are critical for biorefineries. Third, we will explore the development and identification of versatile and inexpensive separation materials that can handle complex multicomponent streams in harsh conditions of temperature, pH, and high dissolved solids content.
Sankar Nair is Professor, Associate Chair, and Simmons Faculty Fellow in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech. His research interests are in the science and engineering of nanoporous materials for the development of sustainable chemical processes. His current work focuses on nanoporous membrane and adsorption-based separation systems and processes that can enable new technological paths in biorefining, plastics upcycling, industrial water management, and CO2 utilization.
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