Development and evaluation of aromatic polyamide-imide membranes for H₂S and CO₂ separations from natural gas
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Over the past decade, membrane based gas separations have gained traction in industry as an attractive alternative to traditional thermally based separations due to their potential to offer lower operational and capital expenditures, greater ease of operation and lower environmental impact. As membrane research evolves, new state-of-the-art membrane materials as well as processes utilizing membranes will likely be developed. Therefore, their incorporation into existing thermally based units as a debottlenecking step or as a stand-alone separation unit is expected to become increasingly more common. Specifically for natural gas, utilization of smaller, more remote natural gas wells will require the use of less equipment intensive and more flexible separation technologies, which precludes the use of traditional, more capital and equipment intensive thermally based units. The use of membranes is, however, not without challenges. Perhaps the most important hurdle to overcome in membrane development for natural gas purification is the ability to maintain high efficiency in the presence of harsh feed components such as CO₂ and H₂S, both of which can swell and plasticize polymer membranes. Additionally, as this project demonstrates, achievement of similarly high selectivity for both CO₂ and H₂S is challenged by the different governing factors that control their transport through polymeric membranes. However, as others have suggested and shown, as well as what is demonstrated in this project, when CO₂ is the primary contaminant of interest, maintaining high CO₂/CH₄ efficiency appears to be more important in relation to product loss in the downstream. This work focuses on a class of fluorinated, glassy polyamide-imides which show high plasticization resistance without the need for covalent crosslinking. Membranes formed from various polyamide-imide materials show high mixed gas selectivities with adequate productivities when subjected to feed conditions that more closely resemble those that may be encountered in a real natural gas well. The results of this project highlight the polyamide-imide family as a promising platform for future membrane material development for materials aimed at aggressive natural gas purifications due to their ability to maintain high selectivities under aggressive feed conditions without the need for extensive stabilization methods.