What is Molecular Sieve?
Published On:February 3, 2020 Revised On:March 7, 2023

What is Molecular Sieve?

A Molecular Sieve is a material with pores of uniform or equal size. The diameter of these pores is very similar to small-sized molecules. So, the molecules having a diameter larger than the diameter of pores can not enter or be absorbed while smaller size molecules can. The mixture of different-sized molecules will pass through the sieve or the matrix so that molecules with higher molecular weight will leave the base first, followed by smaller molecules. A Molecular Sieve will separate the molecules based on their sizes, known as chromatography. Like Silica Gel or Activated Alumina, it is also used as a desiccant in industrial procedures. The diameter of the sieve pores is measured in angstroms (Å) or nanometers (nm). Various types of Molecular Sieves are available for application in the market.

Molecular Sieves are highly efficient for removing water from liquids and gases. Because of their crystalline composition, they are even more effective than desiccants like activated alumina or silica gel. Molecular Sieves can create virtually water-free products. They are instrumental in cryogenic operations when gas needs to be liquified or prevented from freezing. Water needs to be completely absorbed. The primary applications of Molecular Sieves consist of drying gas stream in the petroleum industry and drying solvents in the laboratory, and various catalytic applications. They are also used for air interaction and liquid purification assemblies. Compared to any other system, using Molecular Sieves to remove impurities from a liquid or gas is very easy because they can be designed per the size of the impurity one wishes to filter. Ease of use and super efficiency are the most critical aspects that make a molecular sieve a very important solution than any other kind of desiccant available in the market.

Molecular Sieve Materials

Molecular Sieves

Molecular Sieves can be microporous, mesoporous, or macroporous materials.

Microporous Materials

These materials have a diameter of less than 20 Å, around 2nm.

  • Zeolites: diameter of Zeolite LTA is 3-4 Å
  • Porous Glass: more than 10 Å
  • Activated Carbon: 0-20 Å
  • Halloysite: 1 nm spacing for hydrated clay; 0.7 nm spacing for meta-halloysite or dehydrated clay
Mesoporous Material

The molecules in this category have a diameter between 2-50 nm (20-500 Å).

  • Silicon dioxide, used to make silica gel, has a diameter of around 24 Å.
Macroporous Material

These materials have a diameter of more than 50nm.

  • Mesoporous silica: 200-1000 Å (20-100 nm)

Application of Molecular Sieve

Petroleum Industry

Molecular Sieves are widely used in the petroleum industry. The main application of molecular sieves is in the drying gas stream assemblies. For example, in the liquid natural gas (LNG) industry, the water content of gas should be less than one ppmv. If it is more, the chances of blockages in the stream due to ice can increase.


In laboratories, Molecular Sieves are used to dry the solvents. These sieves have proven superior to any traditional drying technique, which is often a desiccant.

Catalytic Operations:

Zeolites or Molecular Sieves are used in various catalytic operations. They are used to catalyse processes like isomerisation, alkylation, and epoxidation. Molecular Sieves are used in large-scale industrial processes like hydrocracking and fluid catalytic cracking.

Air and Water Filtration Assemblies

They are used in air and water supplies in the filtration apparatus, for example, the underwater masks used by scuba divers or firefighters. In such kinds of applications, the air is supplied by an air compressor. Depending on the nature of the application, it is filled with a Molecular Sieve, Activated Carbon, or both. These filters remove particulates and compressor exhaust products from the breathing air supply.

FDA Approval

The United States FDA approved molecular sodium aluminosilicate for its direct contact with consumables back in 2012. Before this approval, Europe used the Molecular Sieve in different pharmaceutical applications. Further independent testing also suggested that molecular sieve meets all the government requirements. But the sieving industry has been unwilling to fund more advanced testing.

Regeneration of Molecular Sieve

There are three different procedures used for the regeneration of Molecular Sieves:

  1. Changing the pressure by using oxygen concentrators.
  2. Heating and purging with a carrier gas are also used while dehydrating ethanol.
  3. Heating the sieve inside a high vacuum assembly.

Unlike Silica Gel which can be regenerated by heating it to a temperature of 120°C in a regular oven, the temperature range for a Molecular Sieve varies from 175°C to 315°C, depending on the type of Molecular Sieve used.

How to Select a Molecular Sieve?

Molecular Sieves

Now that we’re done with the different types, dimensions, and applications of Molecular Sieve, we need to know how to choose the right Molecular Sieve for your particular application. Molecular Sieves come in several shapes and sizes in the market. But the Molecular Sieves shaped as spherical beads have an advantage over any other shape because they offer a very low-pressure drop. It will also not reduce the force of stream passing through it since the spherical structure does not have any sharp edges and is also a very strong structure which means that the force required to crush a Molecular Sieve spherical bead is higher per unit area. A few molecular sieves provide lower heat capacity, resulting in lower power requirements.

Another important advantage of using the spherical shape over any other shape is that the bulk density of this shape will be a lot higher than any other shape. For absorption applications, the area required for Molecular Sieve will reduce. Thus, while performing debottlenecking, use a beaded Molecular Sieve, load more absorbent in the same volume, and avoid vessel modification.

Due to their manufacturing process, Molecular Sieves are highly customisable and highly efficient, and easy to use. Feel free to contact us to learn more about Molecular Sieves!