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Master-Thesis: Emerging membrane technologies for energy efficient separation of lignocellulosic biomass in biorefineries - Long Term Membrane Distillation Tests

AEE – Institute for Sustainable Technologies (AEE  INTEC) was founded in 1988 as an independent research association and is now one of the leading institutes for applied research in the fields of solar thermal energy, low-energy and zero energy buildings as well as in energy efficiency in industry. Besides these energy related topics also sustainable water management is a focus area, whereas process intensification technologies such as the membrane distillation and the oscillatory flow bioreactor are applied.



The biorefinery approach aims the highest possible value creation in means of down cycle raw material utilization. Membrane separation processes combine the advantage of material usage of the components by partly selective separation mechanisms with energy efficiency measures. Of great interest are emerging membrane processes such as forward osmosis (FO), membrane distillation (MD), pervaporation (PV) and liquid membrane permeation (LMP). In this project particular attention is paid to MD and LMP for the treatment of different process streams.

Besides the international Annex 17, a national project was set-up to strengthen Austria’s membrane and biorefinery research network. The objective is to evaluate the use of membrane separation processes and the integration of industrial waste heat, a sustainable path of the utilization of waste materials / waste streams and the reduction of the water demand is to be demonstrated.

The Austrian contribution of AEE INTEC evaluates the usage of emerging membrane separation technologies in biorefineries by undertaking long-term tests, with focus on membrane distillation.

Membrane distillation (MD) is an emerging thermal separation technology that allows evaporation of water through a porous hydrophobic membrane, mainly made from polypropylene (PP), polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), polytetrafluorethylene (PTFE) or PP/PTFE. Driven by the difference in partial pressure the evaporation process is not linked to the fluids evaporation temperature and thus allows evaporation processes to take place at ambient pressure and much lower temperatures as usual. Clear permeate evaporates through the membrane yielding a highly concentrated solution. While MD is currently applied for sea water desaliniation, other applications have been scientifically studied but most of them still lack fundamental process understanding.

In order to understand the membrane performance in detail, specifically with respect to fouling, the conduction of long-term test is necessary.


This diploma thesis will be embedded into the framework of a national and international focus on emerging membrane technologies for energy efficient treatment of lignocellulosic biomass in biorefineries.

In this master thesis several membranes and different streams from biorefineries will be evaluated and most interesting/suited will be applied in long-term experimental tests with the technology membrane distillation. Focus in the long-term evaluation will be on the fouling behavior. Measures to prevent fouling (e.g. cleaning strategies) are elaborated. Based on long-term experiences Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be defined. Examples are indicators like the Gained Output Ratio (GOR), separation rates, energy demand etc. KPIs should give the possibility to evaluate the efficiency of emerging technologies in comparison to conventional state of the art processes. The comparison should be done based on literature values.

This work will form an important basis to understand the advantages and challenges in the application of membranes for such feed streams.

In this master thesis practical tests in the membrane distillation plant at AEE INTEC shall be conducted. This includes:

  1. Selection of membranes based on pore size, hydrophobicity, structure of polymers etc.
  2. Design of experiments
  3. Conduction of Long Term Test series
  4. Analysis of results
  5. Definition of KPIs
  6. Optimization of Test Series
  7. Comparison of SKPIs – emerging technology vs. conventional technology
  8. Results presentation

We request…

Thesis written in English or German

Solution-oriented, creative, independent and reliable operation-mode

Desirable: knowledge of practical lab work, knowledge of process engineering, knowledge of mass and energy balances, experience with analytical procedures, protocol writing, results evaluation

We offer...

  • Paid thesis, integration into ongoing project
  • Start: January 2021
  • Duration: 6 month
  • Location: AEE INTEC Gleisdorf


Judith Buchmaier
Department Industrial Procezzs and Energy Systems
AEE - Institut für Nachhaltige Technologien
A-8200 Gleisdorf, Feldgasse 19, Austria
Phone: +43 (0)3112 5886-452, Fax: DW 18
Email: j.buchmaier@aee.at

Dr. Bettina Muster-Slawitsch
Department Industrial Procezzs and Energy Systems
AEE - Institut für Nachhaltige Technologien
A-8200 Gleisdorf, Feldgasse 19, Austria
Phone: +43 (0)3112 5886-471, Fax: DW 18
Email: b.muster@aee.at