With a long history in the speciality chemical industry, Evonik traces its orgins back to the mid-1800s, born from a collection of German companies that evolved and merged to become Evonik Industries in 2007.
Today, Evonik is one of the world leaders in specialty chemicals operating in more than 100 countries around the world. The group’s membrane technology business belongs to one of six innovation growth fields.
Evonik has developed an impressive North American customer base and continues to provide the region with its innovations, most recently through its SEPURAN® membrane technology which gasworld spoke to Evonik about in August.
To find out more about Evonik, its focus on the North American market and its SEPURAN® membrane technology, gasworld again caught up with Alex Evans, Business Development Manager of Membranes at Evonik.
gasworld (GW): Thank you for taking the time to talk to gasworld. Can you tell us about Evonik’s presence in the North American market and how it serves its US customers?
Alex Evans (AE): Evonik is very dedicated to the North American market. We’ve recently made key expansions to support growth in the region by acquiring J.M. Huber’s silica assets, the Performance Materials Division of Air Products and PeroxyChem.
Evonik is also investing heavily in its own internal growth, especially in the Additive Manufacturing and Membranes groups. Evonik is continuously developing new polymers with properties that boost the performance of 3D printers and enable products with new features to be made through additive manufacturing.
On the membranes side, we are keenly focused on upgrading biogas to renewable natural gas, which aligns with Evonik’s and the world’s focus on sustainability. Our membranes can also be used for hydrogen purification, natural gas processing, helium recovery, nitrogen generation, solvent-based separations, and several other applications.
GW: Can you tell us a little bit more about your SEPURAN® membrane technology?
AE: Evonik is an innovation leader in membrane-based separation technologies. We offer a wide range of membranes for efficient separation of gases and also for solvent-based liquid separations.
SEPURAN® separates gases depending on their size and solubility in Evonik’s polyimide fibers. In the simplest terms, this technology behaves as a filter designed to allow certain gases to pass through while others remain behind. Regardless of the application, our membranes are extremely easy to operate and maintain since the membrane contains no moving parts.
GW: You mention Evonik has a wide range of membranes for the gas separation industry, what are the unique advantages of these products over conventional technology?
AE: SEPURAN® gas separation membranes offer many advantages for the entire industry. Since membranes have no moving parts, systems built with SEPURAN® typically have much less complexity than conventional technologies, such as pressure swing adsorption or cryogenic units. Less complexity means minimal maintenance is required.
Our membranes are made from Evonik’s robust polyimide fiber for which we are able to adjust performance at the development stage of the base material—our high-performance polymer— as the world’s only fully backward-integrated producer of high-selectivity separation membranes, resulting in membranes which are the most reliable membranes on the market.
A unique feature of SEPURAN ® membranes is their ability to recover from upsets such as oil carryover from a compressor. These facts, combined with the extremely high capacity fiber, makes SEPURAN® a smart choice.
Our membranes can also be used in place of operations which require constant input of solvents, as is the case with amine scrubbing. Regardless of the application, SEPURAN® membranes offer the ability to use processes that are much easier and cheaper to operate compared to conventional options.
Evonik’s membrane product line is extensive and custom designed to address needs in gas separation, organic solvent nanofiltration (OSN) and separation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). To explain a bit more about some of our membranes, SEPURAN® Green has high CO2/CH4 selectivity and is a superior technology for upgrading biogas. This selectivity of these membranes enables the production of high purity biomethane with excellent methane recovery.
SEPURAN® N2 is especially suitable in blanketing or inerting and delivers nitrogen purity of up to 99.5%, plus has excellent capacity. Alternatively, SEPURAN® N2 Selective can be used for users with low air consumption requirements. SEPURAN® Noble membranes were specifically developed for helium recovery and purification enabling highly pure helium to be efficiently produced even when inlet concentrations of helium are very low.
Finally, SEPURAN® NG membranes are used in the challenging process conditions of natural gas processing with complex gas compositions and typical pressure and temperature conditions up to 70°C. They can be used particularly effectively in natural gas sources with a high concentration of carbon dioxide.
GW: What trends does Evonik currently see in the North American market? How is the company responding to these?
AE: The novel coronavirus has certainly brought about a lot of change in the daily lives of everyone around the world. Many individuals have lost jobs, and frequently businesses have been forced to take drastic measures to keep their doors open. But with challenging circumstances come new opportunities, and Evonik is poised to meet the new demands of the market.
Specifically, I have seen a renewed emphasis on maintaining a local presence and expertise in North America that can quickly respond to customers and inquiries. In response, Evonik is leveraging our existing local team of experts to develop small demonstration units for nitrogen and helium applications. These systems will be used within the region to demonstrate the performance of our membranes and will reduce the technical risk of customers’ projects.
I have also seen many companies that are focusing on methods to reduce operating expenses. Evonik is again poised to answer this need. SEPURAN® Noble membranes, for example, offer drastically lower operating costs for helium production plants compared to convetional cryogenic technologies. This is due to their high selectivity, meaning they accomplish the best separation between helium and other molecules. Projects that were not believed to be viable in the past can once again be considered.
Our nitrogen membranes can also help customers decrease their operating costs. Many nitrogen users have long-term supply contracts with industrial gas suppliers which can be costly. Most nitrogen users would realise operating cost benefits from making their own nitrogen onsite from compressed air with SEPURAN® membranes. Onsite nitrogen is also the ultimate local supply chain: you are no longer reliant on anyone for a material that you cannot go without.