All you need to know about membranes

Membranes and their capabilities are fascinating. But what are membranes exactly? Where are they used? And how does the future in membrane technology look? In this blog post, I give you my point of view.

By Maria Salud Camilleri Rumbau, Team Leader & Senior Membrane Applications Specialist at Aquaporin

Membrane basics

Few technologies give you the power to separate and concentrate liquids. Membrane technology, which I work with every day, is one of them, and in addition, it offers efficient processes for water treatment and enables achievement of high-quality permeates – something engineers like me find extremely fascinating. In general, membranes allow separation of a wide variety of compounds from feed streams in a relatively simple process, obtaining a concentrate stream rich in rejected compounds, and a clean stream known as permeate. The separation mechanisms of membranes are, among other parameters, related to pore size and charge interactions. Depending on their pore size, for instance, membranes can be classified as e.g. ultrafiltration membranes which enable the separation of protein-like compounds, and reverse osmosis membranes or forward osmosis membranes where the separation layer allows the removal of for example ions like sodium, calcium, and heavy metals.

You can find membranes everywhere

In the water treatment field, membranes are used in combination with different techniques to produce drinkable water from surface waters, wells, or even seawater. However, it’s not just in water treatment membranes are exceptional. They are also widely used in the food and pharmaceutical industries to mention a few examples. In the food industry, membranes are for instance used for milk separation and clarification of juices, and in the pharmaceutical industry, membranes are used to separate targets for vaccine production purposes. Membranes can even obtain drinkable water from fecal streams and urine, delicious, right?

The future of membrane technology

In the future, I am certain membrane technology will continue being present in our daily lives, for instance when it comes to access to clean drinking water, food processing, and municipal, industrial, and pharmaceutical wastewater treatment. Why am I certain of this? Because, in a world where sustainability – finally – gains continuously increased attention, the environmental benefits of cleaning and reusing water and not discharging untreated wastewater into nature cannot be overlooked. And because the benefits of obtaining concentrates that can be commercialized, further treated to extract valuables, or reintroduced in industrial production processes are enormous. And finally, because I believe that, in an economically balanced scenario, no other technologies can compete with the added value offered by membrane technology.

Did you miss Maria Salud's first blog on how we make membranes at Aquaporin? Check it out here.

Published on April 2022 in ,