Some industrial processes require the separation of gas or vapor mixtures. Methods for separating the mixtures vary from separation by diffusion to separation by distillation. Many of the methods, such as distillation, are energy intensive. Membranes can reduce the energy required to produce a desired separation. Because of their corrosion resistance and high temperature applications, engineered inorganic membranes can significantly increase the efficiency of many of these processes. The magnitude of the separation factor, available operating conditions, enrichment, yield, and cost of the membranes play a large role in determining whether membranes can be more economical than other methods of separation. These factors have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Martin Marietta Energy Systems' Office of Technology Transfer conducted a preliminary market survey with the assistance of the University of Tennessee and commercial marketing experts in inorganic membranes. The survey assumed that membranes could be made with permeabilities a factor of 3 larger and with cost per unit area a factor of 3 smaller than is currently available. The results indicated that active implementation of such technology could expect to achieve the following results:
• $2 billion dollar per year sales market,
• $16.6 billion increase in the national GDP,
• $2 billion improvement in the balance of trade, and
• 6 quads per year decrease in energy use.