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Rapid heating prepares energy-saving zeolite for greater role in industrial separations
Date:8/3/2009

ing promotes the formation of flexible grain boundary defects, or interfaces, between zeolite crystals. These defects can grow much larger than the zeolite pores to become "nonselective" pathways that can be permeated by the very molecules the zeolite is designed to separate.

"The molecules that you are trying to separate with your zeolite film," says Snyder, "can now circumvent the highly selective pathways and pass through the grain boundaries. This has been a major issue for the commercial viability of zeolite membranes."

Tsapatsis' group uses a regimen of RTP to remove the SDA molecules from inside the zeolite pores and to promote what they believe could be chemical "gluing" of the zeolite crystal domains. After heating the zeolite to 700 degrees C, the researchers hold it at that temperature for up to 2 minutes and then cool the material rapidly to room temperature.

The researchers believe the rapid rise in temperature may cause bonding between the crystal domains. "This could possibly decrease the flexibility of the grain boundaries so that they no longer open up between the crystals during operation of the membrane," says Snyder, who worked with Tsapatsis as a postdoctoral researcher. "In short, this type of heat treatment may chemically glue the crystal domains together."

A second round of RTP or conventional slow-heating is then necessary, says Snyder, to completely remove the SDA molecules from inside the pores.

Snyder has used an optical microscopy technique called laser scanning confocal microscopy to examine the grain boundaries in conventionally produced zeolite membranes and in zeolite membranes that have undergone RTP. Confocal microscopy is used widely in biology research to take optical slices of transparent, 3-D structures. Snyder and Tsapatsis were among the first teams to use the technique to characterize zeolite membranes by selectively labeling grain boundary defects with fluorescing molecules. The
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Contact: Kurt Pfitzer
kap4@lehigh.edu
610-758-3017
Lehigh University
Source:Eurekalert

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