Mar 16, 2009

Striking a Balance

Membrane technology has become very important to water quality professionals in the past decade. Treating water with membranes uses a small footprint, is adaptable and expandable and produces high-quality water. What’s more, as it has become more of a commodity, the cost of the treatment has come down and is now competitive with conventional treatment.

Everything comes with a trade-off, though, and in this case it is energy usage. Most membrane systems—whether it is a membrane bioreactor, brackish water desalination or simple microfiltration—use up significantly more energy than conventional filtration methods.

In the Spring 2009 issue of Membrane Technology, most articles center around energy consumption. This should come as no surprise, as energy consumption—specifically, reducing it—is a hot topic in all industries lately.

Let’s compare membrane technology to cars and other motor vehicles. Cars have made living in today’s society much easie. By being able to get around faster, our daily lives have become incredibly efficient and our world has gotten smaller. But cars have also caused some serious problems, such as a strain on our energy supply and a subsequent dependence on foreign oil, as well as the release of tons upon tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

The solution, most would agree, is not to rid our world of cars. Besides the fact that this would be nearly impossible, it is ideal to progress forward along with the advancement of technology, rather than move backward. So instead, we continue to research alternative energy sources, engineer fuel-efficient vehicles, fund public transportation and so on.

Along these lines, we need to progress forward with membranes as well. Some solutions include the following: operate treatment plants during off-peak hours; encourage creativity and innovative thinking when designing plants in order to obtain maximum efficiency; automate the controls at a plant; reduce membrane air scouring; and co-locate desalination and power plants so both can feed off each other’s energy and unburden the nearby power grid.

The need for access to high-quality water and the need to lower energy costs are dually imperative in today’s world. One should not be sacrificed for the other. Membranes have afforded us better-quality water; now we need to do our part to keep this technology energy-efficient.

Twice a year, Membrane Technology offers technical focus and case studies that offer insight to the rapidly expanding membrane market.

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