Ethylene/ethane separation via cryogenic distillation is extremely energy-intensive, and membrane separation may provide an attractive alternative. In this paper, ethylene/ethane separation performance using polymeric membranes is summarized, and an experimental ethylene/ethane polymeric upper bound based on literature data is presented. A theoretical prediction of the ethylene/ethane upper bound is also presented, and shows good agreement with the experimental upper bound. Further, two ways to overcome the ethylene/ethane upper bound, based on increasing the sorption or diffusion selectivity, is also discussed, and a review on advanced membrane types such as facilitated transport membranes, zeolite and metal organic framework based membranes, and carbon molecular sieve membranes is presented. Of these, carbon membranes have shown the potential to surpass the polymeric ethylene/ethane upper bound performance. Furthermore, a convenient, potentially scalable method for tailoring the performance of carbon membranes for ethylene/ethane separation based on tuning the pyrolysis conditions has also been demonstrated. © 2013 American Institute of Chemical Engineers AIChE J, 59: 3475–3489, 2013
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