Processing Magazine

US demand for membrane separation technologies grows apace

April 5, 2012

Demand for membranes in the US is expected to increase 7.1 percent per year to $5.4 billion in 2016, says a just-released market research report available at Reportlinker, “U.S. Membrane Separation Technologies Market.”

Growth is mostly attributed to continued adoption of environmental regulations that require purity levels best achieved with membrane separation technologies. Additionally, ongoing interest in minimizing waste and recycling or reusing input fluids will stimulate gains in membrane demand, especially in the industrial market, the report says. Further contributing to growing membrane demand is the increasing penetration of membranes into the water and wastewater treatment, and food and beverage processing markets.

Microfiltration membranes account for the most established and mature segment of the market and are projected to continue to account for the largest share of total demand, the research states. However, demand is expected to grow more quickly for reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration membranes, both of which are capable of removing a wider range of contaminants.

Demand for reverse osmosis membranes will benefit from growing interest in treating brackish water and desalinating seawater to create potable water sources, while ultrafiltration membranes are increasingly being used in place of microfiltration membranes for pretreatment purposes. Of the major applications, demand gains are expected to be fastest for pervaporation membranes, albeit from a very small base. Pervaporation membranes are increasingly used to remove volatile organic compounds from wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing processes. Other markets in which pervaporation membranes are used include the chemical processing, and pharmaceutical and medical markets.

The research report says the largest market for membranes is water and wastewater treatment, accounting for nearly half of sales. Demand is driven by regulations for water and waste streams that increasingly require compliance with more stringent allowable contaminant levels, which often necessitate the use of membrane separation technologies to achieve the mandated results. Additionally, the growing need for water conservation in many parts of the US will continue to fortify membrane demand, especially in industrial markets.

Polymeric membrane materials will continue to dominate the market, the researchers say, because of their relatively low initial costs and their ability to be used in a variety of applications. However, polymer-based membranes are subject to an increasing level of competition from nonpolymeric membranes, which are less likely to foul and can be more easily cleaned. Demand for membranes made from such materials as ceramic and metal is expected to grow more rapidly than demand for polymeric membranes through 2016, albeit from a smaller base.