Separation processes are widely used in chemical productions. The further development of membrane-based separation processes, compared with thermal separations, can lead to significant energy savings in chemical process industries. However, the main obstacle of experiments is that many separation... Show moreSeparation processes are widely used in chemical productions. The further development of membrane-based separation processes, compared with thermal separations, can lead to significant energy savings in chemical process industries. However, the main obstacle of experiments is that many separation processes are not well understood at the fundamental molecular level. In this dissertation, we use computational molecular modeling tools, mainly classical molecular dynamics (MD), to clarify molecular forces and provide detail at a molecular level, which can aid in the understanding of transport process and designing materials for a proposed application.
In the first study, we investigated separation of water/alcohol vapor using zeolite membranes. Experimentally, the separation of water/isopropanol (IPA) mixtures shows a dramatic decrease in selectivity due to increase of IPA flux as the feed water concentration decrease when using the sodium A zeolite membrane. We used molecular dynamics simulations to help our experimental collaborators understand these puzzling results. The MD results reveal that the water molecules gather around the defect pores on the zeolite membrane, which stops the IPA from going through the membrane and has a positive effect on separation.
Then, we studied the HPLC used to separate chiral drug mixtures. One popular chiral stationary phase, amylose tris(3,5-dimethylphenyl carbamate) (ADMPC), has been investigated using both experimental and computational methods; however, the dynamic nature of the interaction between enantiomers and ADMPC, as well as the solvent effects on the ADMPC-enantiomer interaction, are currently absent from the chiral recognition mechanism. We used MD simulations to model the ADMPC in different solvents to elucidate the chiral recognition mechanism from a new dynamic perspective. The ADMPC is found to hold the left-handed helical structure in both methanol and heptane/IPA (90/10); however, the ADMPC has a more extended average structure in heptane/IPA. We developed a model where the ADMPC atoms were restricted in the MD simulation. To better understand the molecular dynamic chiral recognition that provides the retention factor and the elution order in HPLC, we examined hydrogen bonding lifetimes, and mapped out ring-ring interactions between the drugs and the ADMPC. We discover several MD metrics related to hydrogen-bonding lifetimes and correlate them with HPLC results. One metric provides a prediction of the correct elution order 90%, and the ratios of these quantities for the enantiomers provide linear correlation (0.85 coefficient) with experimental retention factors.
In the following study, we presented an improved model wherein multiple ADMPC polymer strands are coated on an amorphous silica slab. Using various MD techniques, we successfully coated ADMPCs onto the surface without losing the structural character of the backbone in the solvent. This model provides more opportunities for chiral molecules interacting with ADMPC, resulting in a better agreement compared with experiment when using the overall average metric. The new model also provides the possibility for drug molecules to interact with two polymer strands simultaneously, which is not possible in the previous single-strand model. For a better understanding of why some metrics are better predictors than others, we used charts of the distribution of hydrogen bonding lifetimes to display the information for various donor-acceptor pairs. The results are more consistent than the previous models and resolves the problematic cases of thalidomide and valsartan.
Besides the membrane-based separations, immiscible liquid-liquid equilibrium states were also studied. We successfully predicted results based on MD simulations and showed comparable accuracy with experimental data. This method has applications in liquid-liquid extraction which is widely used in industrial separation process. Show less