Simplified Method to Extract Biofuels from Aqueous Mixtures Using Organophilic Silicas that Rapidly and Reversibly Swell

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Conference Proceeding


Separation of biofuel molecules from aqueous feedstocks or fermentation reactors is a primary challenge to create energy positive fuel production systems. Examples of required separation processes include the extraction of triglycerides from algae and alcohols from water. A novel chemical separation system has been developed based on a new class of nano-engineered organosilicas that rapidly and reversibly expand 8-times their dry weight upon contact with organic solutes or dispersed liquids in water. These materials selectively absorb the non-ionic organic fraction whereas salts, proteins, carbohydrates, debris, and water itself are excluded from the expandable matrix. Absorbates can be extracted with small amounts of solvent or simple evaporation. The swelling of the organosilica is reversible allowing a closed loop system where organic solvents never come in contact with aqueous biofuel feedstocks. The results of pilot-phase tests with current bioreactor designs will be reported which are being done with academic and corporate partners.

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