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Tue 14 Apr 2009 04:00 AM

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Membrane storm

Membrane technology is a crucial part of water treatment. Peter Ward gauges the industry's opinion on the latest developments.

Membrane storm
Dr Mahmoud Al Hindi, Palm Water.
Membrane storm
Michael Tylla, Koch Membranes.
Membrane storm
Jorg Menningmann, ITT.
Membrane storm
Ahmed Khafagy, Dow Water Solutions.

Membrane technology is a crucial part of water treatment. Peter Ward gauges the industry's opinion on the latest developments.

Membrane technology has been in existence since the late 1960s, although only recently has it been widely used. The combination of biological processes and membranes provides purer water than conventional methods. Membrane technology has been popular in desalination and is becoming increasingly important in the water recycling field.

The concept of membranes is quite simple; the membrane acts as a filter, which lets water flow and catches suspended solids and other substances. However, the newer technologies and advances in this field are far from simple, as experts rush to achieve better efficiency and dependability from membrane technology.

Utilities Middle East talks to a selection of experts working with membrane technology on the advances, the challenges and the general market conditions in the Middle East...

Dr Mahmoud Al Hindi, operations director, Palm Water

What is your company's involvement with membrane technology?

We have four plants where we are utilising membrane technology; we have two on Palm Jumeirah and two with Jafza. We've been using membranes and the idea of using membranes stems from two reasons. One is that the quality of the water that is turned out is so much better than traditional methods of treating wastewater. Secondly, because the membranes can be put in tanks, the space requirements are so much smaller, which is another important factor.

How is the market for membrane technology?

Membranes in the last three or four years have been a very hot subject. Not just in the UAE but throughout the Gulf, for the reasons I mentioned before. In terms of large scale plants I'm not yet aware of any massive plants that have been commissioned in this part of the world, but the potential is huge.

For wastewater it is growing quite rapidly. However, for large scale plants, and by large I mean anything above 120 000 m3, I am not aware of anything yet. If you speak to people in the UAE then they are not too keen on membranes, maybe this is because they are too conservative, maybe they are used to the traditional methods. But there is a huge potential in this region and there are ongoing projects.

How long will it be before it picks up?

It is picking up and it will continue to pick up but I think you need to have a plant with a large capacity to be completed for people to feel a little more inclined to discuss it. I think the energy sector clients are still a little bit reluctant to use it.

There are also other issues that need to be clarified by the manufacturers themselves such as the requirements in terms of maintenance, the requirements in terms of power consumption and the need for replacements. These are issues that need to be addressed and with a little more transparency from the membrane manufacturers.

How important are membranes to wastewater reuse?

It is unquestionable really because in this part of the world reuse is still an up and coming subject and to be able to reuse water you really need to clean it to such an extent that you can use it for things such as irrigation or in some cases direct reuse, i.e. making it potable. I think membranes will play a crucial role in this because they really are very good barrier So yes, in reuse it's a very, very useful tool.

What is the future of membrane technology?

I think the buzz word for the last three or four years has been nanotechnology. Where you are looking at using certain nanotechnology to improve the permeability of the membranes. There is a lot of research going on and I think there will be major advances, maybe not in the next two or three years but there will be major advances. Michael Tylla, European business manager, water and wastewater, Koch Membranes

How is your company involved in membrane technology?

We consider ourselves one of the major industrial suppliers for membrane technology; for industrial applications and other areas. In water treatment specifically we have offerings for the area of membrane bio reactors for wastewater treatment, reverse osmosis and also for pressurised situation for surface water treatment.

How much of your business is conducted in this region?

At the moment it's a relatively small part, I would say looking on our water business, which is approximately 35% of the total business, less than 20% is in the Middle East. But we see it as an important area and we actually are putting more effort into this area and we are looking into expanding our sales presence.

How important is membrane technology for recycling wastewater?

I think it is a crucial technology because with conventional technologies you can't produce the water to the standard that is needed to recycle it. You have to reduce the bacterial load in these waters, you have to reduce the particle load in these waters and you need membranes to do this. You also need to reduce the salt concentration in the water to reuse it and again membrane technology is the technology of choice.

What significant products or installations have you implemented recently?

Our main product is what we call the Megamagnum reverse osmosis element. It is an 18 inch diameter reverse osmosis element. It has approximately seven times the membrane area of a conventional 8 inch membrane element. It reduces installation costs and investment costs. The space requirement for a system with these elements compared to conventional systems is approximately 30% less.

You have a cost reduction because you have fewer connections in the systems and you have a smaller building you need to put around it. There are a lot of advantages; there is operational safety because you have to monitor fewer elements which could give you potential leakage. So, that is what we see as our most interesting product.

What are the most significant recent developments in membrane technology?

I think the most recent development is the membrane bio reactors, the submerged membrane technology which has taken over quite dramatically from conventional systems in the last ten years. Today this is the state of the art technology.

Looking forward, I think in reverse osmosis we will see a move from small and medium sized plants to very big plants in order to match the demand that we are seeing. Jorg Menningmann, director of business development, ITT

How is ITT involved with membrane technology?

ITT is involved in membrane technology through both direct applications for wastewater tertiary treatment and desalination and indirectly by the application of our rapid gravity sand filtration (RGSF) and dissolved air filtration (DAF) technologies as pretreatment to membrane applications. We also produce many of the pumps required for pressure driven membrane applications and the ancillary process steps.

How is the market for membrane technology?

Of course right now, the market is slowing as financing of projects is limited by the global financial crisis. In wastewater applications, membrane technology applications are expanding to provide safe reuse water for irrigation and district cooling. Industrial applications, although a small but growing sector, can take advantage of recycled water for process requirements.

Therefore, it is quite conceivable that a majority of all new wastewater plants will be designed for reuse utilising either gravity sand filtration or membranes to provide water for irrigation to high purity process water for industry. Desalination will provide drinking water and augment water losses in the system.

How important is membrane technology to wastewater reuse and disposal?

Membrane technology is not a critical technology for wastewater disposal unless perhaps you are considering industrial wastewater where membranes can play pivotal roles in clarification and waste volume reduction. In sanitary wastewater, MF/UF membranes play a role for producing high quality effluent for discharged or for reuse.

But certainly a properly functioning biological process like our ICEAS BNR secondary waste water technology followed by ITT Leopold RGFS and ITT Wedeco UV disinfection will produce high quality water for discharge to the environment without utilising membranes. With an ultrafiltration plant in place of our RGFS we can produce lower BOD and suspended solids, but in most cases it isn't required by environmental discharge standards.

How do you see the future of membrane technology?

Membrane technology will grow at 10% plus annually over the next ten years as coastal populations expand, wastewater reuse distribution is expanded and discharge regulations become more stringent. Of course where fresh water resources are readily available, MF/UF technology for drinking water production will grow with increased drinking water standards.

One day it is possible we could see some type of membrane technology in the majority of water/wastewater treatment facilities. Furthermore, as membranes evolve to higher performance capabilities the life cycle cost of membrane applications will drop and thereby the technology will become more accessible. Ahmed Khafagy, Middle East sales manager, Dow Water Solutions

How is the market for membrane technology?

The extremely dry conditions and limited water sources in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf area, is a challenge that Dow Water Solutions is helping to address, providing millions of people in the Middle East with a sustainable source of fresh water.

Two particular examples of rapid growth are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia's population is now growing rapidly and the Kingdom continues to invest in water production and water reuse facilities to anticipate its population's needs in the face of water scarcity.

Therefore, countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates must continuously invest in water and wastewater reuse facilities to supply their population and development needs.

What do you see as the biggest technological advance in membrane technology recently?

One trend that is evident in the Middle East, as well as throughout the rest of the world: customers want to cut costs by investing in solutions that reduce wastewater discharge and produce water while also delivering reliability and efficiency at the same time.

Advances in reverse osmosis membrane technology for seawater desalination continue to drive down capital and operating cost. Dow Water Solutions will continue to leverage innovative technology to deliver high quality water at low operating costs for municipal and industrial water applications.

Another trend is the purification of water with high biological or organic fouling tendency. Currently, Dow Water Solutions is working on an RO membrane that would combine the superior spiral wound configuration with chlorine resistance. This is critical for the Arabian market where fouling plays an important role, mainly because of the high feed water temperature.

How important is membrane technology to waste water disposal?

With the increasing and more stringent water and wastewater quality requirements, the need for innovative solutions is required not only for the disposal of the waste water, but for its reuse as well.

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