Separation science and technology: reviewing its past to map out its future

Separation technology is fundamental to all chemical production processes. The separation techniques used are common to a range of industries and are continuously developing. As with cross-industry best practice, the application of processes and developments in one industry can find applications in another, which may be completely unrelated. SCI’s Separation Science and Technology (SS&T) Group aims to promote this and to provide a forum for information exchange across the industrial and academic spectrum.

In the past few years, successful events and conferences have been organised by the SS&T in food industry separations, membrane separations, mixed-mode chromatography and ion exchange. The meetings in membrane separations and mixed-mode chromatography were one-day events, featuring international speakers and had strong industrial sponsorship. The International Ion Exchange (IEX) conferences were established in the 1950s, and are now one of the two major conferences of the ion exchange industrial and academic communities worldwide. IEX conferences are held every four years in Cambridge (UK) and, in collaboration with the International Committee for Ion Exchange, are organised to alternate with the Japanese Ion Exchange Society, as well as workshops held in the intervening years.

IEX2008 broke new ground by including a two-day technical training course on industrial water treatment prior to the main three-day conference. The success of this course has highlighted the usefulness of this type of technical training, where there is an industrial need. Major structural changes in some industries over the past two decades have resulted in a loss of in-house skills and in-house technical training. The role of the SS&T Group must therefore be in technical training where there is a perceived industrial need. This presents a great opportunity for the Group to remain relevant during today’s changeable times. Another important role – illustrated by the IEX conferences – is creating a community of those interested in a specific technical area, through the organisation of relevant periodic events. Based on these lessons, and looking forward, the

SS&T Group has planned a conference on potable water production. This is a topic of great interest worldwide. As populations increase, a wider range of waters, often contaminated by small quantities of toxic ions, for example, heavy metals, must be considered for use. In addition, the WHO is defining ever-stricter limits for contaminants. The wealth of separation technology that is already available, or is still being developed, can be applied to this area. The SS&T Group believes that by providing this type of information, it can make a significant contribution to the existing community interested in this field, which will include both interested members and external delegates. Biochemicals production from regenerable resources is another area of increasing importance that requires separation technology. Biological processes inevitably produce a mixture of products that require refining. Again, chemical separation techniques from other industries are already available or are being developed. This is an area where the Group is active and can make a great contribution – a three-day conference on the subject of biochemical separations is planned for 2011.

The role of the Group in promoting separations technology and encouraging research and development has not been forgotten. Bursaries are offered in support of SCI members carrying out significant research in a separation area, and also for those wishing to present papers at conferences, but who practise at organisations that do not have funding available for conference and workshop attendance. These are usually students from very active overseas universities, who focus on separations vital to their local environment. A number of such bursaries were awarded at IEX2008, where a student prize funded by Wiley Publishing was also given for the best student paper (pictured). There is also scope in the future for events and training at universities and colleges to promote research in separation technologies.

Achieving the SS&T Group’s wider objectives requires the involvement of all its current committee members; however, it is also important that new members are recruited. The rewards of joining a committee such as this are not necessarily entirely altruistic. An increased profile and enhanced career development can result, as well as valuable networking opportunities.

If you are interested in the Group’s activities and wish to find out more or participate, then contact us at:

David Naden
Separation and Science Technology Group 

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