The ecological impact of membrane-based extraction of phenolic compounds – a life cycle assessment study

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Many phenolic compounds show high boiling points, low molecular weights, moderate polarities or high toxicities. Therefore, conventional wastewater treatment is limited or expensive. Recycling of the separated compounds is often not possible. But, if liquid-liquid reactive extraction is linked to a non-porous membrane, some or all of the above mentioned limitations may be overcome. The key element is a composite membrane with a dense, hydrophobic top layer which avoids the mixing of the two aqueous fluid streams. The dilute phenol stream is one of them, the other is caustic soda as stripping solvent. Since the basics of this technology have been discussed before, the scope of this study is to facilitate process implementation and integration. To this end, a life cycle assessment framework is used to identify the optimal equipment size for the treatment of wastewater that may, for example, originate from the production of polycarbonate. Limiting for this application is not the environmental performance though, but most likely process economics.

Keywords: industrial water treatment, liquid-liquid membrane contactor, recovery, recycling

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