The Advanced Separation Technologies Group focuses on the development and synthesis of novel liquid absorbents to improve mass transfer performance and ‘green’ alternatives to traditional organic solvents used in extraction processes. Deep understanding of the fundamental principles connecting chemistry and chemical engineering consolidates our strength in applying novel solvents, bridging the gap between academic research and industrial challenges.
Our group conducts various research activities, including bench scale solvent development and characterisation, bench scale gas-liquid, liquid-liquid, liquid-solid separation process development, pilot scale separation investigation and optimisation and field/industry testing. We also take advantage of various computational tools to develop advanced control strategies for crystallisation processes; identify leading solvents for specific extraction system and for process optimisation.
Green solvent development
Traditional solvent extraction processes rely on volatile organic compound (VOC) solvents from petrochemicals to extract active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Due to regulatory, economic, environmental and health concerns, there is increasing pressure to replace VOCs with green alternatives. This research stream is focused on methods to replace VOCs with bio-based solvents. To date work has focused on the extraction of natural pharmaceutical products including alkaloids (opium poppy straw) and cannabinoids (cannabis). This has included the evaluation of a range of bio-based solvents, identifying promising combined solvent systems and pilot scale testing in a range of innovative contactors.
In mining and resources sectors, we work towards the development of novel extraction technologies for metals including uranium, lithium, nickel and cobalt. Importantly, we work with national and international mining companies to develop innovative methods to reduce water and energy use whilst improving product yields and purities. The work includes process conceptual designs, feasibility studies, bench-scale testing, model development and process optimisation.