It's 2021. Your reverse osmosis membranes are due for replacement soon. This is a significant investment, and one that all operators eventually need to make to keep their RO plant running smoothly.
Have you given this any thought?
We can spend so much time in our personal lives researching purchases before we buy. We make conscious choices on brands. We get satisfaction from investing in well made products that last (I know I do). We put great value on purchasing from brands that manufacture with a clear ethos and integrity.
Thin-film composite membranes are essential to reverse osmosis. How much do you know about the different companies manufacturing in this space?
Read on and we’ll explain it all from an OEM perspective. We’ll tell you why we've developed a preference for some options more than others. Bear this useful information in mind when you’re next due for a membrane replacement.
Reverse Osmosis Membrane Manufacturers
Companies using reverse osmosis face a dizzying choice of brands when choosing components. Water treatment is a niche but high value market, and growing rapidly.
Nearly 6 billion people are projected to face clean water scarcity by 2050 according to the UN, a number which Nature (2019) suggests is an underestimation[i]. Population and economic growth worldwide mean desalination and associated technologies become more relevant every day.
Within this growing market space are a number of big players. Mergers and acquisitions mean the landscape is constantly changing.
For example, in late 2019, DuPont acquired Inge GMBH, a well-known ultrafiltration membrane portfolio from BASF[ii]. In early 2021, Suez has just completed the acquisition of Lanxess, a European membrane manufacturer[iii].
Some of the global companies producing RO membranes.
Let's be clear on this. Every company above manufactures very high-quality membranes.
Compared to when we started in water treatment 35 years ago, membrane technology has improved by leaps and bounds. There is a huge difference in quality, performance and product life. This is a great time to be an end-user or an OEM – we’re spoilt for choice.
And so we go back to the start. What membranes to choose? What brand represents the best value? All factors weighed up; what membranes give the best bang for your buck?
We’ve put them all to test over the years. One company has consistently impressed us with their quality and ability to bring about continuous improvements.
Can you guess who it is?
Who are FilmTec?
Founded in Minneapolis in 1977.
Company acquired by Dow in 1985.
After mergers in 2019, now part of DuPont Water Solutions.
Still manufactures in Minnesota, USA.
FilmTec workers on the assembly line in the Minnesota factory, 2013. Image Courtesy Star Tribune.
FilmTec Corporation was founded in Minneapolis, 1977 by a group of University of Minnesota graduates. Their collective experience prior to entering reverse osmosis included varied backgrounds working in industrial adhesives, chemical engineering – oh, and designing launch missiles and re-entry vehicles for the USAF and NASA via contract[iv].
Yes - actual rocket scientists went to work designing the original membranes.
If you've got time and you feel like deep diving into your desalination history, check out the interview below. Courtesy of the American Membrane Technology Association (AMTA), it's a sit down chat with the original founders of FilmTec.
It's pretty incredible hearing the founders talk about their backgrounds and experiences through the years. They actually coined the term 'nanofiltration' after trying to sell a new membrane to the Japanese market!
In 1985, The Dow Chemical Company acquired the company for what was, at the time, an obscene sum. $65M USD - equal to about $157M USD today.
With the financial backing of one of the world's largest blue-chip chemical companies, FilmTec went from strength to strength. After Dow’s merger with DuPont in 2017, and a subsequent rebranding and restructuring, the FilmTec membrane portfolio now rests under the umbrella of DuPont Water Solutions.
DuPont are now one of the world's major thin film composite membrane manufacturers.
As an OEM, here’s why we like them so much.
1. A Quality Centric Approach (Leads To Product Reliability)
“Do one thing, and do it well”
Roy Larson, Founder, FilmTec Corporation[v]
I asked M.Farghaly, our Managing Director about his first visit to the FilmTec factory in Minnesota in the 80's.
“What comes to mind? The consistency, quality and performance of these membranes. It was unparalleled! FilmTec were like the Mercedes-Benz of the membrane world.”
Right from the start, what we saw was a mindset to under promise, but overdeliver.
While performing our wet tests or during commissioning, FilmTec membranes would consistently deliver a salt rejection rate of 99.8% as against the claimed figure of 99.6%.
We love this attitude. It's completely in line with our company philosophy. Whether it's the system performance or project delivery dates, we don't make promises we can't deliver. We only take up jobs we can deliver to an exceptional standard.
Over the years, we have noticed something else that’s special. In our experience over three decades, we've never had a FilmTec membrane fail without a clear and obvious cause. And we've never shipped one out which failed during commissioning.
This is the exceptional experience that FilmTec offers.
Poor salt rejection rates, shorter lifespans, premature failures are all membrane issues we've encountered. But not from FilmTec.
Another great thing we like? FilmTec membranes, despite their complex chemistry and fabrication, are still cleanable with basic chemicals across a wide pH range.
DuPont haven't tried to lock their customers into any proprietary chemicals - despite being one of the largest chemical companies in the world.
Great news for us and for you: the Advanced Watertek range of chemicals including antiscalants, membrane cleaners and preservatives are designed & suitable for use with FilmTec membranes.
2. Technology (A History of Innovation)
FilmTec are leaders, not followers. In 1979[vi], just two years after inception, the company patented the thin-film composite (TFC) membrane technology that remains in use today. This laid out the blueprint for many other companies to follow.
Since being acquired by Dow and later DuPont, innovation hasn’t stopped. The company consistently invests in research into water treatment technologies through academic partnerships.
If you missed it, a collaboration between the University of Texas, Penn State and DuPont Water Solutions recently had promising findings published in Science[viii]. The paper documents an increase in efficiency of 30% to 40% in thicker, denser membranes tested.
This could lead to a significant technological improvement for future membrane iterations – showing industry and university collaboration at its finest. Watch the video below for a simple breakdown on the research, methods and findings, courtesy of The University of Texas.
3. Suitability (A Membrane For Every Application)
DuPont have now assembled a wide range of membrane products under the FilmTec brand. Aside from the core range of elements designed for seawater, brackish water and tap water, FilmTec also now includes additional models for low fouling and low energy requirements.
This gives us something we value very much – options and specificity. If a client has the goal of reducing OPEX, we'll choose a high recovery, low energy membrane like the SW30HRLE-400. This seawater RO element is robust, durable and designed to lower operating costs via lower energy consumption. It’s a specific solution to a common industry pain point.
We like FilmTec for all applications, ranging from the miniscule to the very large. We might be supplying a single SW30-2521 as a replacement for a small onboard water maker. Or perhaps we're designing a 1,000,000L/day desalination plant for a Municipality or a Government Water Board using a full array of membranes.
In both circumstances, FilmTec is our preferred choice. And it's not just us either.
In 2006, the Perth Seawater Desalination Plant in Kwinana came online, powered by around 18,000 membranes[ix]. The project was valued at over $362.6M AUD. Can you guess what brand of membranes were specified?
Reverse Osmosis unit. Image courtesy The Water Corporation.
Eight years of operation without replacement. That’s what the FilmTec membranes have achieved under continual operation. Absolute workhorses. We're yet to work on a project of such a scale, but it's gratifying to see other companies get the same consistency and high performance from FilmTec as we have.
In Summary - Choosing Your RO Membranes
Remember the landscape overview? There are many manufacturers within this space. We don't want to give you the impression that other brands are of lower quality.
It's actually quite the opposite!
For example, Nitto Hydranautics also have a wide portfolio of high quality membrane elements. We have customers in the marine and shipping industries that specifically request Hydranautics - so that's what we supply them. Hydranautics membranes have also been utilised in major desalination projects across the world.
However, as an OEM, we've recently faced supply issues and high lead times with Hydranautics due to high market demand and large order backlogs.
Likewise, we've previously used membranes from Toray, another Japanese company. They make high quality membranes that have been utilised in major projects and water treatment plants worldwide.
And look, full disclosure - it's not all been fireworks between us and FilmTec.
We don't always transact in large-scale volumes and therefore don’t have the same level of buying power as larger OEM's. As a result, we do find that aftersales care and attention from DuPont can be lacking.
Our best advice to end-users: if you're considering your options ahead of a scheduled membrane replacement - research your options carefully!
If you're not being recommended FilmTec, ask why. And if you're interested to know more about the range, get in touch with us today.
Advanced Watertek stock a range of FilmTec reverse osmosis membranes in our WA warehouse. We supply across Australia via Desaltek. Browse the range online here.