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New membranes for dehydrating organic solvents

| By Gerald Ondrey

Researchers at Asahi Kasei Corp. (Düsseldorf, Germany and Tokyo, Japan; are developing a membrane-based system that dehydrates organic solvents without heat or pressure. The system is targeting pharmaceutical-manufacturing applications, where organic solvents are commonly used in performing reactions, as well as for purification by crystallization. For such applications, water needs to be removed from the solvent (dehydration).

Standard dehydration methods, such as vacuum distillation, require the application of heat. These methods are not only time- and energy-intensive, but may also have undesired effects on the pharmaceutical intermediates contained in the organic solution, especially those that are sensitive to heat.

dehydrating organic solventsAsahi Kasei has leveraged its expertise to develop this forward-osmosis system, which includes a hollow-fiber membrane module and a draw solution suitable for organic solvents used in pharmaceutical manufacturing. The development of the forward-osmosis polymer membrane and the draw solution enables the removal of water without the loss of pharmaceutical intermediates (diagram). Being able to handle highly soluble liquids, such as tetrahydrofuran (THF), toluene or methanol, this membrane system can dehydrate organic solvents below 1,000 parts per million (ppm) without applying heat or pressure, thereby minimizing the impact on heat-sensitive pharmaceutical intermediates. Compared to vacuum distillation, the process time required can be shortened and energy consumption can be significantly reduced, the company says. The membrane system can be used with a variety of organic solvents, including alcohols, ethers, esters and hydrocarbons.

To evaluate the performance of the membrane system in practical use, Asahi Kasei is collaborating with Ono Pharmaceutical Co. (Osaka, Japan;, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Japan. Commercialization is targeted for 2027.