Methodology for Assessing the Maximum Potential Impact of Separations Opportunities in Industrial Processes

Jian Liu, Jacob Dempsey, Shuyun Li, Yuan Jiang, Lesley Snowden-Swan, William Kubic, Eric Tan, Charles Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Separation technologies currently used in U.S. manufacturing industries are estimated to account for more than 20% of plant energy consumption. However, accurately determining the impact of new separation technology solutions can sometimes be difficult, especially when evaluating a slate of new candidate separation technologies, each of which has its own separation performance, energy demand, and capital cost. In these cases, a typical approach is to assess each new separation technology by collecting performance and cost information and then using that information to develop a techno-economic analysis to identify overall benefits. While this approach is thorough, it can be time consuming and can hinder reaching a critical understanding of the potential of a given separation challenge, especially when there is no known solution. To address these issues, we developed an assessment methodology, using industrial screening processes, that can be used to better understand the potential impacts of addressing a given separation challenge. This paper presents an overview of our separation challenge stream assessment methodology. The methodology involves defining an “ideal” separator and deriving the associated minimum separation energy. The “ideal” separator represents the most optimistic outlook of a given opportunity so the maximum impact from existing and not-yet-developed solutions can be assessed. Using established biorefinery models, we applied the methodology to 10 different separation challenge streams from two different biomass conversion platforms to identify the type of information that can be obtained. Three of the ten challenge streams assessed had maximum possible cost savings predictions >20%, and associated reductions in process energy carbon intensity ranging from 0 to 54%. Two streams had cost and energy savings potential that were < 5%. Some of the opportunity drivers from the various assessments include higher product yields, reduction or elimination of downstream equipment, new co-products, and cost savings associated with raw materials and energy consumption. The information from these assessments can help guide the selection or development of new separation technology solutions based on the various potential factors that drive the projected benefits.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number1056580
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Sustainability
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Liu, Dempsey, Li, Jiang, Snowden-Swan, Kubic, Tan and Freeman.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-84196


  • bioenergy
  • biomass conversion
  • methodology
  • separation
  • techno-economic analysis


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