Advances in membrane technology provide one of the most promising areas in water and wastewater treatment today. While the brackish and seawater desalination market has seen a rapid uptake in membrane technology in the past, using membranes for treatment and advanced separations has now become more common across municipal and industrial markets. Membranes are passive elements that provide a barrier against contaminants, but a key advantage that technology providers are trying to exploit today is their ability to provide an alternative to high-energy separations such as distillation, for instance, to separate salts, concentrate brine, or dehydrate solvents. A good example of this is the desalination market, where thermal desalination capacity has seen a steady decline in comparison to membrane-based technologies that dominate with over 62% of the market. Continue reading
While many companies and investors have struggled to make sense of an entry point into the massive water industry, seeds are consistently being sown for those that know how to monitor and enter intelligently. One such emerging solution offering nuanced opportunity is forward osmosis (FO) in difficult-to-treat and high-value industrial markets. FO uses semi-permeable membranes and a concentrated draw solution to separate freshwater from a high salinity feed. Unlike other membrane-based processes, such as reverse osmosis (RO), which pushes water through a membrane with pressure, FO does not rely on external pressure to move water through the membrane.
So, what are the opportunities and challenges? While FO has been a heavily researched topic in academia, the technology has been slow to adopt in industry largely due to its energy guzzling regeneration step to recover freshwater. Many early stage companies in the space initially targeted the municipal seawater desalination industry but the two step FO process has yet to successfully compete with the incumbent technology in the space. However, FO startups are starting to exploit the technology’s low fouling potential and high salinity feed tolerance in applications, such as milk dewatering and zero liquid discharge, where most membrane-based processes foul easily due to high pressure requirements.
As a result, the largest and the fastest growing market for FO is in brine concentration and zero liquid discharge (ZLD). Continue reading