18 February 2016

Thermoreversible ABS: towards novel separation processes

Thermoreversible ABS: towards novel separation processes

Aqueous Biphasic Systems are increasingly used in industry for separating and purifying compounds for purposes as diverse as food or pharmaceuticals because their highly effectiveness and environmentally friendly. Now, for the first time, a team of researchers CICECO and Department of Chemistry, University of Aveiro (UA) has shown that these systems can be thermoreversible. The property discovery promises to be an increased added value in the development of more sustainable separation processes. The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports of the Nature group.

With two immiscible liquid phases, it may be used as alternative separation and purification methods of several value-added products, aqueous biphasic systems with a composition rich in water, is a more sustainable process compared with conventional processes. These, on the contrary, require high energy and reagents consumptions, as well as the use of organic solvents, often toxic and carcinogenic.

Following a number of studies over the past five years, on the formation and application of aqueous biphasic systems based on ionic liquids from the purification of compounds with added value obtained from biomass to pharmaceutical drug purification, Helena Passos, Andreia Luís, João A. P. Coutinho and Mara G. Freire, demonstrated for the first time that these systems can be thermoreversible.

"The thermoreversibility in aqueous biphasic systems translates into the possibility of having one or two liquid phases through a small change in temperature without changing the composition of the initial mixture," explain the researchers.

The process, they point out, is reversible and by increasing or decreasing the temperature it is possible pass consecutively from one to two phases, and from two phases to one phase, as many times as desired. Traditional aqueous biphasic system require high temperature variations contrary to what happens with these new systems, where the introduction of protic ionic liquids allows that a range of 1 to 5 degrees Centigrade to be more than enough to switch between monophasic to biphasic regimes.

"These systems are still thermoreversible at near-ambient temperatures, thus involving a reduction of energy costs, and creating the necessary conditions for the development of purification techniques for molecules or thermolabile products such as biopharmaceuticals that are currently priced from thousands to millions of euros per gram, given the current shortage of low cost efficient processes for their purification, " points the research now published in Scientific Reports journal.


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