Membrane industry takes over new markets as it grows to $2.8 billion

01 October 2011

Advancements in membrane technologies such as fouling resistance, self-cleaning functionality, and improved chemical tolerance enable the thin layers of material to be used in newer applications such as industrial water treatment, powering the growth in the industry that will take the market from $1.5 billion in 2009 to $2.8 billion in 2020, according to a new report.

Membrane-based technology is displacing traditional processes – including chemical, biological, or elementary physical separation – in treatment of industrial water in sectors such as food and beverages, electronics and pharmaceuticals, according to the report by Lux Research.

“Newer technology developments over the last several decades are enabling membranes to move into key growth sectors within the hydrocosm,” said Reka Sumangali, Lux Research Analyst and the lead author of the report. “While some markets may still be inaccessible due to performance and production barriers, the desalination market will continue to be strong, growing to $1.3 billion in 2020, from $720 million in 2010.”

Lux analysts evaluated innovations in polymer and ceramic membranes, combinations of organic and inorganic materials, and broader system-level advancements contributing to improved membrane performance. Among its key findings:

  • Implementation is key. The winning technologies will be those that are the easiest to use within the current infrastructure – not the membrane systems with the strongest performance in permeability and selectivity. The economics of an industry that has become standardized across applications don’t support infrastructure changes.
  • A single game-changing technology is unlikely. Diverse innovations like multi-functional membranes with catalytic materials or high-strength ceramic membranes can provide impressive benefit. However, all have their trade-offs as well, meaning none of them are likely to be a category-killer.
  • Biomimetic membranes remain the Holy Grail. Biomimetics, which seek to bring the efficiencies of plant and animal cell membranes to industrial ones, still remain a potential disruptive force. Companies such as Aquaporin and AquaZ, and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation are actively developing proteins that enable development of such membranes.

The report, titled “Understanding the Hype in Advanced Membrane Technologies”, is part of the Lux Research Water Intelligence service. Visit the Lux Research website.

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