It's called the office candy dish problem. You grab a jellybean, but it's not the flavor you want. Pawing through for your favorites is irritating in terms of time, energy, and efficacy. It also annoys your office mates. In an odd way, it's the same problem for those in manufacturing, power generation, and elsewhere. They want a specific subset of molecules or other bits; however, getting that subset can consume vast amounts of energy.
Chemical separation accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the nation's energy consumption, according to an article in Nature ("Seven chemical separations to change the world"). Industries spend up to half of their energy budget on separations. The associated price tag is in the billions. That energy use has environmental costs, including tons of carbon dioxide released each year.
Researchers funded by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science are tackling the energy demands of separation by focusing on the underlying science. They are answering questions about "how" and "why" the targeted materials behave.