Program Overview

In 1984 the Center for Energy Studies and the Bureau of Engineering Research, with the support of the Chemical Engineering and Chemistry Departments at the University of Texas at Austin established the Separations Research Program (SRP). This cooperative industry/university program performs fundamental research of interest to chemical, biotechnological, petroleum refining, gas processing, pharmaceutical, and food companies.

In this cooperative endeavor, the university provides the framework for the program, the core of researchers, and a significant investment in equipment and facilities. Sponsoring companies contribute membership fees that are used to purchase additional equipment, support researchers, and produce research documentation.

The SRP is headed up by Technical Manager Frank Seibert, who also serves as the Director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Separations Division. He has received the ARCO Excellence Award (1982) and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin (1986).


The focus of the SRP is the mass-transfer and hydrodynamic characteristics of commercial-scale extraction and distillation devices. We are studying the fundamental mass transfer and hydraulic characteristics associated with contacting devices used in distillation and extraction. Our studies utilize large and pilot scale equipment for distillation, liquid extraction, and supercritical extraction. Recently, we have included studies of commercial-scale hollow fiber contractors for liquid extraction.

The distillation program is divided into three areas: study of contacting devices, reactive distillation, and models for scale-up. This research is focused on studying the performance of high efficiency packings and trays using large-scale and pilot-scale equipment. The objective of these studies is to develop a consistent and mechanistic understanding of the hydraulic and mass transfer processes involved in vapor-liquid and gas-liquid contacting. These studies will lead to the improved column design or retrofit of existing distillation towers.

The extraction program is divided into four areas: conventional liquid-liquid extraction, high-pressure solvent extraction, microporous membrane extraction, and phase separation. Again, the objective of our extraction research is to develop a consistent and mechanistic understanding of the hydraulic and mass transfer processes involved in solvent-liquid contacting. Research