In 2017 suppliers of reverse osmosis (RO), microfiltration and ultrafiltration equipment and membranes will generate sales of $11.2 billion. The growth rate for the industry in the next 10 years will certainly exceed GDP. The question is whether it can achieve growth close to 10 percent or whether annual growth will be a more conservative 5 percent a year.
Regulations are the most predictable of the three variables. Countries around the world will continue to tighten drinking water and wastewater standards. Demand is also predictable due to the shortage of fresh water and the projected increase in industrial water use around the globe.
Source: McIlvaine Company
Technology advances will be the most challenging to predict. The reason is that there is potential in three-broad categories: processes, equipment and membranes.
The food industry continues to develop unique ways to concentrate foods or extract products from liquids. Thermal desalination competes with membranes. Spray driers are competing with evaporation and membrane concentration in the power and coal-to-chemicals industries in countries such as China.
The production of gasoline provides a whole series of process choices which will impact the membrane market. One choice is to extract shale gas and then convert it to liquids. Produced water from gas extraction can either be treated with membranes or pumped underground. Another option, which is now popular in China, is to convert coal to fuels and chemicals. The government requires all these plants to employ zero liquid discharge (ZLD). One of the ZLD options includes both reverse osmosis and forward osmosis.
Improvements in equipment such as energy recovery pumps, pre-filters, valves and control systems will also be important. Some of the most important equipment developments cannot be easily assessed. For example, a new catalytic filter allows power plants to supply clean hot gas to a heat exchanger which will in turn provide the heat source needed for the forward osmosis unit in the ZLD process.
Membrane development will greatly influence the growth rate for the industry. A substantial investment is being made in aquaporin protein based membranes. Another initiative involves incorporating nanoparticles within the membrane structure to improve the energy/efficiency ratio.