Exploration of electrochemically stimulated separation technologies

Within this project, we develop highly innovative technology that uses electrical switches for adsorption and desorption. In chromatography for example, not only interaction of the adsorbent with the target molecule determines the amount of component that can be ‘harvested’ per unit time, but often the desorption step plays an equally important and time-consuming role. Within the current project, we will use a switchable electric field to either attract, or release the target molecule, or both, and this leads to novel separation technology that is low in energy used because only the molecules of interest are targeted.

The underlying idea is that in this way, the removal step is speeded up considerably, at less chemical consumption as would be the case for competitive technologies such as chromatography. In order to achieve this, we need to design electrodes that show the required response to an electric field (considerable progress was already made). Besides this, the components that are present should not interact with the electrodes in an irreversible way, for which we have developed polymer modification methods that for example prevent protein adsorption. In order to ultimately design this novel separation process, we also use modelling tools that will guide us in charting the conditions under which this technology may be used, and prepare tailor-made polymers that comply with the tasks at hand.

We are for example interested in separation of salt from proteins, separation of different whey proteins, and also food flavours. To truly design these systems from scratch for mixtures that contain many different components, various component categories (proteins, salts, carbohydrates) will be characterised and process options will be developed based on typical time scales for transport, release etc. We will both design innovative electrodes, and develop systems from first principles based on amongst others mass transfer considerations.