18 Nov 2011

Bleg: RO technology

JS emails:
I'm an MBA student at XX University and I'm trying to do some research about the membranes used in reverse osmosis plants/procedures. My main concern is the market for them (size, players, etc.), but also technical aspects. It's been very hard to dig down and get some specifics about the membranes themselves and not just entire water management or desalination plants because so many of the firms that operate in the space are subsidiaries of large corporations like Dow.

I noticed on your site there was a link to a GWI piece that quoted the RO membrane market as <$1 billion, for example. I'm having a hard time finding sources to document such data.

We're trying to figure out why there haven’t been any technological advances for 30 years in these membranes* and what sort of market opportunity would be out there for someone willing to spend some R&D time and money pursuing an advance.**
* I'd read that while there has been progress, the essential technology is basically the same as when John Cadotte invented it 30+ years ago--at least with regards to desalination.

** We're looking for the market size information to try and quantify any possible opportunities for investment in the area. As you've noted on your blog, one of the problems in the segment is that water is generally not a very clean market (no pun intended).
Can anyone help?


GSS said...

The WateReuse Association has published some great white papers (including costs) on desal recently - go to: http://www.watereuse.org/information-resources/desalination/resources

Mr. Kurtz said...

The Economist had an interesting article in their August 2011 "technology quarterly" about electrodialysis, which might make RO much more feasible.
As I understand it, we have gone about as far as we can with conventional membranes. They work well on small scale systems like ocean going ships. However the energy needed to push large volumes of water through the membrane is just too great to make big projects feasible.

James said...

I wrote about membranes in a post focused on China - the link is


Lex Markets predicts that the total membrane market will grow very quickly in the next 10 years, from $1.5 billion in 2009 to $2.8 billion in 2020.

The Essentials of Investing in the Water Sector - Goldman Sachs - estimates that the water industry is between $400 and $500 billion , a number that will only increase as living standards and water prices go up. Of this estimate, wastewater, industrial water treatment, and infrastructure (transmission systems) make up more than $300 billion, or 60%-75% of the total water market.

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