Consumer and industrial demands for clean water will drive the market for cross-flow membrane systems and replacement membranes to over $11 billion in 2011 up from $8.3 billion in 2007. These forecasts are displayed in the McIlvaine Company online report, found at www.mcilvainecompany.com.
Forecasts are segmented by membrane type and efficiency. Reverse osmosis is the most efficient membrane and represents 45% of the total sales. These membranes are required to remove salts and the finest particles. Ultrafiltration and nanofiltration account for 20% of the market and provide intermediate efficiency. Microfiltration accounts for 30% of the market and is less efficient than the other membranes, but nevertheless does remove sub-micron particles.
Microfiltration sales have been rapidly expanding due to the needs for purifying drinking water. The cost of this technology is not much greater than the multimedia (usually sand) filtration that has been the workhorse of municipal water filtration for many decades. Micro filtration is more efficient than multimedia filtration and has been proven to capture the microorganisms responsible for some of the outbreaks of illness due to water quality.
Ethanol plants need high quality water for the boilers and other applications. It requires four gallons of treated water for every gallon of ethanol. However U.S. usage is now close to 25 billion gal per year and would rise to 120 billion gal per year in order to reach the target of ethanol accounting for 20% of the transportation fuels.
Brazil is another big market for membrane treatment in ethanol production. China is moving forward with an aggressive program, but is behind the two leaders to date.
The explosive growth in bottled water consumption in developing countries is also contributing to the growth of membrane sales. In many countries the municipal water supply is unreliable. The rapidly growing middle class is able to afford and has opted for bottled water.
Membrane system sales for desalination will rise above $2.5 billion in 2011. This is the largest application for membranes and accounts for more than 20% of the total. The market in the Middle East is growing at 7% per year with Saudi Arabia leading the way.
The future growth of the membranes in the desalination sector will be impacted by technological development. While distillation approaches are becoming more expensive due to the rising cost of energy, membrane processes are becoming less expensive due to membrane and system developments. The energy to desalinate seawater using membranes has been substantially reduced but more developments are on the way. IBM is looking into developing filters woven from nanotubes that could remove the salt and impurities out of seawater at a lower cost than current desalination technologies.
The industry continues to globalize as those with worldwide reach purchase regional companies. In addition, the largest suppliers are setting up engineering and manufacturing operations on multiple continents.