Tetramer Wins NSF Phase I SBIR to Develop a New Gas Separation Product

Tetramer has been awarded a Phase I NSF SBIR (0944518) to develop a new low-cost approach to energy-efficient enriched oxygen from air using unique high-permeability membranes.  This project is focused on commercializing a new gas separation product that will use ambient temperature air at low pressures to enrich its oxygen content from 20% to 30%. By using a new plastic that separates the components of air, this process will be 50% cheaper and more efficient than conventional cryogenic methods. The use of oxygen-enriched air can save natural gas fuel in the US by as much as 70% depending upon burner temperatures and allows existing air-fueled furnaces to be converted economically to oxygen-enriched furnaces. The impact of significantly improving natural gas combustion efficiency throughout U.S. electric power and manufacturing industries would serve to increase the ability of US industry to lower imports of oil by using plentiful North American natural gas. In addition, due to the small size of these membrane systems, they can also be applied to home heating systems using natural gas. The potential U.S. utility, glass, and metal heating market for oxygen-enriched air is estimated at over $8 billion. Our research and development project will focus on improving the filtration ability of the plastic membrane by synthesizing patentable new molecular architectures and building and testing prototype separation units at commercial locations. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project comes from the fact that natural gas for combustion processes currently provides US society with more than one-fifth of all primary energy used in the United States. Oxygen enriched air could save up to 70% of this natural gas used for a wide range of industrial combustion while improving the potential for sequestration of CO2. Successful commercialization of this technology will significantly improve US energy efficiency since it could also be applied to home heating efficiency as well as industrial coal and oil combustion. Scientific and technical knowledge enhancement will be enhanced in the active field of membrane separations. Knowledge and understanding of gas transport through membranes, polymer structure/gas solubilities, and performance of polymer materials under industrial operational conditions will be advanced. New designs for gas processing also will be valuable to system engineers.