Propylene is one of the world’s more important commodities, and the propane/propylene separation, usually performed by means of cryogenic distillation, one of the most difficult as energy-consuming operations currently practiced. Consequently, extensive studies have been developed to provide more sustainable solutions (mainly Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) and membrane technology), but presenting low recovery values as high-energy gaps in de/compression necessities. Recently, the Laboratory of Separation and Reaction Engineering (LSRE-FEUP) researchers’ applied an continuous counter current chromatographic apparatus (Simulated Moving Bed, SMB) to this separation proving its feasibility with high purity propylene (>99.5%), high recovery (>99.0%) and quite promising productivity values >1000 kg of propylene/(m3zeolite.h) with less than half of distillation cooling as heating necessities. However, it is still necessary to prove its competitiveness. One will only have this point cleared if we simulate the complete process (SMB plus desorbent recovery units), optimize and consider different adsorbents, desorbents as the inclusion of different technologies: hybrid solutions. To accomplish it, an interdisciplinary approach must be employed: from the physical fundamentals (adsorption, distillation, membranes), thru optimization to the economic analysis. LSRE-FEUP will contribute with adsorption and membranes expertise, while one of the most rewarded groups in the field of chemical process design, simulation and optimization: Prof. Barton’s group at Department of Chemical Engineering-MIT, will support the distillation, dynamic modelling, simulation, optimization and economic evaluation. In this way, a European Researcher will be trained in a world ranked institute and reintegrate this knowledge back to Europe, raising further his career as the European research area and supporting a sustainable (energy efficient) and competitive solution for an important application.
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