IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON has its eye on addressing global grand challenges, with the launch of a new membranes research centre that seeks to develop and commercialise new technologies, as well as train engineers in research and industry.
The Barrer Centre – which was officially opened at a launch event today – brings together researchers from the university’s department of chemical engineering involved in membranes, adsorbents and separations materials.
The centre’s wide-ranging aims include achieving breakthrough research particularly in water recovery, energy conversion, fluid separation, food technology, bioprocessing and biomedical devices.
Separation processes consume around 40% of the energy used in the refining and petrochemical industries, Imperial College noted in a statement, adding that the likes of distillation and evaporation account for 10–15% of the world’s annual energy use.
“Using membranes for the separation of gases and chemicals provides an alternative, more efficient, non-thermal solution which has the potential to reduce energy consumption significantly, as well as reducing pollution and cutting carbon dioxide emissions,” the university said.
Imperial wants to build a team to research across the scales of technology, ranging from the design of novel materials and the understanding of separation mechanisms at the nanoscale to manufacturing of full-scale membranes and adsorbents at the macro-scale.
Beyond research, the centre will also seek to design systems for specific industrial applications and provide training and technical information for engineers in research and industry.
Nick Jennings, vice provost for research at Imperial, said: “Uniquely, this Centre will bring together world-leading research capabilities, an innovative, interdisciplinary approach and new opportunities for lasting industrial partnerships. The Barrer Centre will push the boundaries of discovery and accelerate the search to find solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”
Centre director and IChemE Fellow Andrew Livingston added: “Our aim is to elevate the Barrer Centre to international pre-eminence in the field of separation science and materials”.
Imperial has form when it comes to developing promising separations technology, with chemical engineers developing ultra-thin, ultra-strong ‘crumpled’ membranes for filtering liquids and gases; and a new method for a novel approach for producing polymer membranes.
The centre is named after the late Imperial chemistry professor Richard Barrer, who is credited with breakthrough research in polymer membranes and molecular transport in microporous media and establishing the field of zeolite research and its applications in industry.
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