Ultra-Thin Membranes for Biofuels Production

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OPEN 2012
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Project Term:
03/22/2013 - 09/21/2016

Technology Description:

The University of Minnesota (UMN) is developing an ultra-thin separation membrane to decrease the cost of producing biofuels, plastics, and other industrial materials. Nearly 6% of total U.S. energy consumption comes from the energy used in separation and purification processes. Today’s separation methods used in biofuels production are not only energy intensive, but also very expensive. UMN is developing a revolutionary membrane technology based on a recently discovered class of ultra-thin, porous, materials that will enable energy efficient separations necessary to prepare biofuels that would also be useful in the chemical, petrochemical, water purification, and fossil fuel industries. These membranes, made from nanometer-thick layers of silicon dioxide, are highly selective in separating nearly-identical chemicals and can handle high flow rates of the chemicals. When fully developed, these membranes could substantially reduce the amount and cost of energy required in the production of biofuels and many other widely used industrial chemicals.

Potential Impact:

If successful, UMN’s ultra-thin membranes would reduce total U.S. energy consumption by as much as 3%, resulting in substantial cost savings for both manufacturers and consumers.


Increasing production of domestic biofuels could reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil by 33% within 15 years.


Widespread use of biofuels and reducing energy use in the plastics industry has the potential to conserve large amounts of oil, millions of tons of coal, and reduce millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next several decades.


Widespread use of biofuels could help reduce and stabilize gas prices for consumers.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Eric Rohlfing
Project Contact:
Dr. Michael Tsapatsis
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Project Contact Email:

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