Membrane and Separations Industry Review
Despite a turbulent year that included corporate restructuring, personnel cuts, divestitures, discontinued operations and continued consolidation, most membrane industry players posted double digit growth compared to the previous year. At the close of 2003, capital expenditures for general industrial separations were still sluggish, especially in the U.S., but conditions have improved (some never slowed) in many key markets including potable water treatment, biotech and the life sciences, hemodialysis and other medical markets, semiconductor manufacturing, and emerging fields such as wastewater treatment via membrane bioreactor (MBR) and membrane-based fuel cell systems.
In potable water treatment, a large, rapid growth market for membranes, issues of dwindling water resources and compromised water quality drive the market. Recent product introductions continue to contribute to the falling cost of membrane technology, even as new membranes offer improved stability, better selectivity and superior flux. Once considered too expensive for implementation, RO seawater desalination, in the U.S. and abroad, is becoming commonplace as nations and states are faced with water shortage. UF and MF also have carved out good-sized potable water niches and are increasingly employed in multiple barrier systems.
Membrane companies involved in the medical, biotech and life sciences segments have experienced healthy growth in the past twelve months. Numerous new membrane arrays, kits, capsules, cassettes and cartridges for sample preparation, drug discovery, genomics and proteomics applications were launched, and new applications found for existing products. The hemodialysis market leaped forward in 2003, as dialyzer manufacturers that own chains of U.S. clinics made the switch to single-use disposable modules in place of multiple reuse products.
Sales to the microelectronics industry rose gradually during the year, portending recovery in the cyclical semiconductor industry. By year-end, Asian sales in this segment, an important indicator, were up strongly. All signs point to continued improvement as semiconductor producers begin upgrading and expanding factories, following the industry's worst-ever slump.
Membrane bioreactors (MBRs), an emerging technique ideal for wastewater treatment and water recycling applications, gained commercial ground last year. After years of use overseas, especially Japan and Europe, some major manufacturers are now selling the hybrid systems, which combine membranes with microorganisms, to the U.S. market with excellent results. Recent MBR installations include food processing and pharmaceuticals plants, graywater recycling systems for seagoing vessels and offshore rigs, and units for landfill leachate treatment.
As membrane-based fuel cells near commercialization, thirty PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell buses hit the streets in 2003 for revenue-generating demonstration projects in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Sweden, Singapore and Canada; stationary systems were started up in New York and Idaho. Both membrane makers and fuel cell developers (sometimes one and the same) are poised to take advantage of this impending large-scale market. Extensive research in this industry also is under way, as scientists seek new membranes that overcome problems inherent with the established industry standard.
This anthology is based on BCC's monthly newsletter Membrane and Separations Technology News and keeps readers abreast of the rapid technology developments that characterize the membrane and separations industry. It explores, analyzes and reports on the science, technology and of:
- Reverse osmosis
- Gas separation
- Ion selective fuel cell membranes
- Biomedical membranes & biomembranes