Exploiting mathematics to aid in the design of adsorption columns (mathcol)


Call: Proof of Concept (ref. PDC2021-121088-I00)

Project Description

Tackling environmental challenges is this generation’s defining task (EC Green Deal 2020). The climate conference in Paris (COP21, November 2015) and the following conferences reaffirmed the consensus that we cannot achieve the CO2 reductions required to maintain the global temperature rise to well below 2°C without the extraction of atmospheric greenhouse gases in tandem with emission reductions and a range of other measures. To achieve even 2°C scenarios by 2050, almost 6 billion tonnes of CO2 should be captured and stored each year across all sectors. Similarly the UN Sustainable Goal of a toxic free environment requires the removal of a multitude of existing contaminants.

Column sorption is perhaps the most popular practical sorption method, used for a wide range of processes such as the removal of emerging contaminants, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), pharmaceuticals, dyes and salts from fluids, but also to treat waste water, exhaust gases and greenhouse gases. It may be applied to both liquids and gases. Sorption is regarded as efficient and relatively easy to incorporate into an industrial production chain. However, this is offset by an increase in cost which makes the technology less attractive. For example, in the case of carbon capture from a power plant CO2 emissions are typically reduced by 90% but at an increase of between 45-70% in energy costs.

During the final stages of the project ‘MTM2017-82317-P Mathematics in nanotechnology and industry’, a mathematical model was developed to describe the removal of contaminants from a fluid using an adsorption column. Using a variety of mathematical techniques the model was simplified to a state where an approximate analytical solution was possible. The analytical solution as well as a preliminary numerical solution were compared with three experimental data sets: for the removal of CO2 from gas and amoxicillin and congo red dye from water. Excellent agreement was demonstrated. MATHCOL’s motivation is to further the understanding of the column adsorption process, starting from the model developed during MTM2017-82317-P, in order to improve the design of future equipment and increase its effectiveness while reducing costs.

The team will comprise researchers, both theoretical and experimental, as well as knowledge transfer and project management personnel. The model will first be validated against a wide range of data sets from different applications, a numerical scheme developed and finally user friendly software. At the same time as the software development, companies and research groups will be approached with a view to licensing or further development of the methods and code. The proposed output is then a simple, user friendly software, capable of aiding in the design of sorption devices.

Principal Investigator
Research group

María Aguareles Carrero (UdG)
Alba Cabrera Codony (UdG)
Francesc Font Martínez (UPC)
Abel Valverde (CRM)


Sorption, extraction of pollutants, climate change, CO2 emissions


In terms of technical readiness the project is currently at TRL2: the concept and models are defined. By the end of the project we hope to reach TRL7, through the production of appropriate software tested on data from real industrial applications.

The research and innovation objectives of MATHCOL are the following:

Objective 1: Identify practical applications of the physical process. Identify possible industrial users.

Objective 2: Gather experimental data for all processes identified and use this to verify the new mathematical models (or identify where refinement is required).

Objective 3: Deliver a detailed description of the validated model, through peer-reviewed publications (see deliverables, Methods-WP2) whenever possible and compatible with the intellectual property protection if required.

Objective 4: Develop a user friendly software platform for the design of sorption columns taking into account the feedback from future users and real-world data/parameters. This will include an investigation into the most appropriate programming language, we will start with Matlab but also consider, for example, the open source version Octave as well as Python (See Methods, WP3).

Objective 5: Carry out a commercial and social feasibility study (see Methods; WP4, WP5) through the identification and engagement of stakeholders such as users and manufacturers of sorption equipment, software producers (Aspen) and prescriptors (water agencies, such as Aigues de Barcelona, or the Environmental Protection Agency, which has acquired and licensed a software suite by Michigan Technical University).

Objective 6: Ensure an adequate intellectual propriety protection to pursue exploitation route of choice, taking into account feedback from companies and prescriptors.

Objective 7: Define business model (“software as a service” licensed to other software companies, exploited as a service by the CRM, creation of spin off…) for the commercial exploitation. See WP4.