Pioneering Solutions

Leveraging expertise across membrane ecosystem

SG MEM enables partnerships and collaborations towards platform solutions for membrane enterprise through leveraging Singapore’s world-class research, dedicated translation and test-bedding capabilities. Our end-to-end ecosystem model hastens the development of industry-relevant technologies and innovations from both our industrial partners as well as our research institutions. Our goal: Continuous clean and sustainable solutions that make life better.

Our Domains Across Industries

Traditionally, membrane technology has been widely adopted by the water industry largely due to its lower cost and higher efficiency across the water production, treatment and recycling process. However, innovations in membrane technology are increasingly finding applications in the energy, pharmaceutical, biomedical, food and beverage and environmental sectors with the added benefit of delivering solutions in a clean and sustainable manner.
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Applications in Energy and Petrochem

Biofuels are a carbon neutral source of energy and they have been around longer than cars have, and yet uptake has been hindered by still-cheaper sources from fossil fuels. As the world grapples with the worsening effects of climate change, there is renewed focus and urgency on clean and renewable fuels. The key to adoption is economic viability driven by process simplification and output yields. Membrane reactor (MR) technology has been shown to greatly alleviate the challenges of separating unreacted emulsified oil from trans-esterified products and experiments with ceramic membranes are able to generate better yields in the purification process of biodiesel compared to the traditional water washing process that consumes more water, time and energy. MRs also enhance biomass gasification to produce hydrogen that are used in fuel cells or internal combustion engines to power electric vehicles and devices.

Apart from making clean energy cheaper, membranes could potentially make fossil fuels separation and refining processes greener as well. For example, a combination of distillation and membrane pervaporation can decrease the energy demand required for hydrocarbon mixture separation. Also, the use of ultrafiltration (UF) membranes to separate highly stable oil/water emulsion reduces the volume of oily wastewater to be removed to only a small fraction of the original volume. Membrane contactors are emerging to replace conventional scrubber for gas/liquid contacting due to 10 times higher volumetric mass transfer rates compared to conventional scrubbers. UF membranes also has the potential to remove all contaminants from recycled lubricating oil without the need of chemicals.

The UF market for polymeric and ceramic membranes across all industries is valued at 1M in 2018 and is projected to reach 2M million by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 15.0% (Research and Markets, 2018).

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Applications in Food & Beverage

The worldwide market for membrane technology in the food and beverage (F&B) industry is the second biggest industrial market for membranes after water and wastewater treatment, forecasted to grow at a CAGR of almost 9% by 2021. The major applications of membranes in F&B are in the dairy industry for processing of milk, whey, brine, etc. followed by other beverage industries such beer, fruit juices and wine.

From Technavio’s market research, prevention of food contamination is one of the primary factors for the growth of the membrane market for F&B, where membranes are able to remove microorganisms and microbial contaminants as an alternative way to ultrapasteurisation. In the dairy industry, membranes are used to extend the shelf life of milk and to produce cheese and whey protein products as well as cater to the rising demand for lactose-free milk and low-fat milk products. In beer and wine production, microfiltration (MF) membranes are used for clarification post-fermentation, and reverse osmosis (RO) membranes used for removing alcohol. Membranes are also used to concentrate fruit juices, coffee and other F&B products.

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Applications in Pharmaceutical

The Asia Pacific pharmaceutical filtration market is forecasted to see the highest CAGR growth due to proliferation of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies in this region. Heavy investments by CMOs (Contract Manufacturing Organizations) and CROs (Contract Research Organizations) for the production of drugs and biologics, less stringent government regulations and developing healthcare infrastructure are key contributors to market growth. The global market for membrane technology in Pharma, Biopharma and Life Sciences is expected to reach $16 Billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 9.3% from 2016 to 2024 (Variant Market Research, 2017).

Membrane technologies are used extensively in downstream processes for bio-pharmaceutical separation and purification in operations such as active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) processing, protein purification, vaccines processing, antibody processing, and viral clearance. Nanofiltration (NF) with organic solvent-stable membranes (OSN) can be used for solvent exchange, solvent recovery and solute fractionation and can potentially be designed into continuous process systems as opposed to the existing batch-manufacturing processes.

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Applications in Biomedical

Medical advances today are in pursuit of non-invasive methods and personalized therapy for targeted patient care and treatment. Medical membranes with applications in drug delivery, tissue regeneration, diagnostic devices, bio-separation, and artificial organs are seeing growing adoption where the global medical membrane market is projected to collect revenue of US$6 billion in 2026 and with an outstanding CAGR of 9.5% over the forecast period from 2018 to 2026 (Transparency Market Research, March 2019).

Inside the human body, membranes can be used to protect implanted cells or drug release systems from an immune reaction via encapsulation using a nanoporous semipermeable membrane. There is research ongoing on nanoporous materials for use in drug eluting stents to treat coronary artery disease. Microfabricated porous silicon membranes have also been used in oral drug delivery systems to eliminate the risk of improper dosing.

Other applications include a variety of in-vitro biomolecular analysis applications such as diagnosis and protein separations. The future of medical diagnostics is also considering the possibility of integrating nanoporous membranes in lab-on-a-chip microfluidic systems.

While the possibilities of membrane applications in medicine are promising, there are major challenges of pore geometry, biocompatibility and biofouling of membranes that need to be addressed especially for implant-tissue interface behaviors which are key areas of on-going research and innovation in this field.

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Applications in Water

Water scarcity, like CO2 and greenhouse emissions has today become a reality impacting every continent in the world. According to the WHO and UNICEF’s “Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – 2017 update” there are 844 million people still lacking even a basic drinking water service and 159 million people who still collect drinking water directly from surface water sources in 2015. A joint research in 2014 showed that by 2020 about 30–40% of the world will have water scarcity and by the year 2040 there will be insufficient drinking water for the world population. Further stressed by water consumption required by electricity generation, agriculture and manufacturing, water woes is a daunting obstacle to basic human needs and survival.

Water scarcity has driven water production, water treatment and water recycling innovations where membranes have emerged as a key technology since the last 50 years. Reverse osmosis (RO) is the leading desalination technology accounting for around 60% of all desalination plants due to its comparatively high recovery factor and lower investment affecting total water cost. Electrodialysis (ED) is another membrane process in commercial use for seawater or brackish water desalination. A thermally driven membrane process called membrane distillation (MD) has gained traction as an alternative desalination technique attributing to being able to overcome the limits of thermal systems (such as distillation) and those of membrane systems (such as RO).

Apart from water supply, membranes also play an important role in wastewater treatment and reuse where irrigation of green lungs and agricultural crops, as well as industrial reuse in cooling towers for boiler feeds and power plants helps to reduce the stress of fresh water supply. Integrated membrane systems, combining Microfitration (MF) or Ultrafiltration (UF) as pretreatment with RO or Nanofiltration (NF) is able to achieve better quality water comparable to drinking water.

The global water and wastewater treatment market is forecasted to reach $211 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 6.5% between 2019 to 2025 (Research and Markets, 2019)

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Applications in Environment and the Carbon Economy

In 2018 global energy-related CO2 emissions hit a historic high of 33 billion tonnes of CO2. This is equivalent to 33 billion double-story dwellings or over 100 billion double decker buses!

The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that CO2 emitted from coal combustion was responsible for over 0.3°C of the 1°C increase in average surface temperatures since pre-industrial levels. Coal remains the largest source of electricity in the world today and this has spurred the urgent regulation and reduction of CO2 emissions globally.

Membranes are emerging as a potential technology for CO2 capture although existing membrane gas separation technologies are still limited by feed conditions such as flue gas concentration and pressure required to offset the energy penalty.

Membranes also play an increasingly viable alternative in air filtration where glass filters and activated charcoal currently dominate. Polymer based nanofibers embedded with nanoparticles are environmentally friendly compared to glass fibers, and are able to filter and decontaminate toxic gases and contaminants, better than HEPA filters. This is especially relevant in clean air applications in hospitals and in design of HAZMAT/protective suits.

This opens up a huge opportunity for on-going innovations in membranes for gas separation and filtration where the current market size is estimated at USD 846 million for 2019 and is projected to reach USD 1.1 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 6.0% (Marketsandmarkets report, July 2019).

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