Comparing the environmental impacts of using bio-renewable and fossil-derived solvent in polymer membrane fabrications

Abstract

Sustainable production methods for polymer membrane fabrication are gaining attention due to concerns about the toxicity of conventional fossil-derived solvents in the production process. In addition, the promotion of using chemicals from renewable source for synthesis processes among industries and researches has increased to decelerate resource depletion. As such, more benign and bio-renewable solvents, dihydrolevoglucosenone (Cyrene™) and 2-methyltetrahydrofuran (2-MeTHF), have been proposed as replacements for traditional fossil-derived solvents, n-hexane and dimethylformamide (DMF). In this work, a life cycle assessment (LCA) was employed to quantitatively evaluate the environmental impacts of using the aforementioned bio-renewable solvents versus fossil-derived solvents for fabricating 1 g of polymer membrane. The analysis adopted a cradle-to-gate perspective and assessed three endpoint impact categories: Human health, Ecosystems and Resources. Despite lower environmental impacts for producing bio-renewable solvents, using such solvents to fabricate membranes displayed a higher environmental impact score in all endpoint categories. This discrepancy was attributed to the lower yield of the membrane fabrication process when using bio-based solvents. This indicated that further work is needed to optimise membrane fabrication so that the benefits of using bio-based solvents can be maximised

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