Membrane Materials and Technology for Xylene Isomers Separation and Isomerization via Pervaporation

  • Rakan Bilaus

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


P-xylene is one of the highly influential commodities in the petrochemical industry. It is used to make 90% of the world’s third largest plastic production, polyethylene terephthalate (PET). With a continuously increasing demand, the current technology’s high energy intensity has become a growing concern. Membrane separation technology is a potential low-energy alternative. Polymeric membranes were investigated in a pervaporation experiment to separate xylene isomers. Polymers of intrinsic microporosity (PIMs) as well as polyimides (PIM-PI), including thermally cross-linked PIM-1, PIM-6FDA-OH and thermally-rearranged PIM-6FDA-OH were investigated as potential candidates. Although they exhibited extremely high permeability to xylenes, selectivity towards p-xylene was poor. This was attributed to the polymers low chemical resistance which was apparent in their strong tendency to swell in xylenes. Consequently, a perfluoro-polymer, Teflon AF 2400, with a high chemical resistance was tested, which resulted in a slightly improved selectivity. A super acid sulfonated perfluoro-polymer (Nafion-H) was used as reactive membrane for xylenes isomerization. The membrane exhibited high catalytic activity, resulting in 19.5% p-xylene yield at 75ᵒC compared to 20% p-xylene yield at 450ᵒC in commercial fixed bed reactors. Nafion-H membrane outperforms the commercial technology with significant energy savings.
Date of AwardNov 2014
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorIngo Pinnau (Supervisor)


  • xylenes
  • Membranes
  • polymers
  • pervaporation
  • Isomerization
  • separation

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