New membrane water treatment system to reduce toxic waste by over 90 percent
Credit: NTU Singapore
A new pilot plant to treat industrial wastewater is being built that could potentially reduce the amount of liquid waste by over 90 per cent.
In addition, the new plant which will be located at a semiconductor company in Singapore can also recover precious metals from the treated water which can then be sold and reused.
The plant is being built jointly by the Separation Technologies Applied Research and Translation (START) Centre, a national-level facility to develop and commercialise innovative separation and filtration technologies, and Memsift Innovations Pte Ltd, a local water technology firm specialising in zero-liquid discharge water treatment systems.
The START Centre is supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU Singapore). It is part of NTUitive, the innovation and enterprise company of NTU Singapore.
The pilot plant uses a novel water treatment system that leverages a new type of hollow-fibre membrane invented by Professor Neal Chung at the National University of Singapore, which has been assigned to and scaled up for industrial application by the START Centre.
Unlike the typical hollow-fibre membrane, which resembles noodles with a hollow core like a straw, the new tri-bore hollow-fibre membrane invented by Prof Chung has three hollow cores, allowing for a water flow rate which is about 30 per cent higher.
Under a new research partnership and licensing agreement, START Centre and Memsift Innovations will jointly build the wastewater treatment plant with the tri-bore hollow-fibre membranes, which can treat up to 5,000 litres per day for a semiconductor firm.
This pilot plant is expected to help the firm save up to 1.6 million litres of water a year (2/3 of an Olympic-sized swimming pool), resulting in a savings of $250,000 in disposal cost. It will filter over 90 per cent of wastewater into clean water and concentrate the metal waste into a liquid, which can then be sold to other companies.
The current solution practised by the semiconductor factory is to transport the toxic wastewater produced during their manufacturing to a wastewater disposal facility where it is incinerated. This disposal process uses five times the energy cost of the pilot membrane filtration plant.
Dr Adil Minoo Dhalla, Managing Director of START Centre, said this is the first successful licensing agreement achieved by the national-level centre since it started in 2016, which seeks to turn cutting-edge membrane research from Singapore’s universities into real products usable by multinational and local companies.
“This pilot plant marks the first of many local water innovations which START is translating for commercialisation. Using our cutting-edge membrane fabrication, module design and testing facilities, we are able to scale up novel technologies from Singapore’s institutes of higher learning rapidly and to test them in real-life environments to validate their commercial value,” added Dr Dhalla.
Dr Dhalla is the Chief Operating Officer of NTU’s Nanyang Environmental and Water Research Institute (NEWRI), and the Chair of the Steering Committee of SG-MEM, Singapore’s National Membrane Consortium supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
The consortium’s key institutional members include START Centre, which is the lead body, NEWRI’s Singapore Membrane Technology Centre at NTU, Membrane Science and Technology Consortium (MSTC) at NUS, and Environment and Water Technology Centre of Innovation (EWTCoI) at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
The SG-MEM consortium, which was launched in 2018, already has 24 industry members (one of which is Memsift Innovations) from across Singapore’s membrane eco-system.
Dr J Antony Prince, Founder of Memsift Innovations, believes that the novel tri-bore hollow-fibre membrane from START Centre will help to improve the efficiency of their patent-pending thermal separation process, which provides unique benefits over traditional brine treatment and zero-liquid discharge solutions.
“Our filtration process operates at relatively low pressures and temperatures as compared to the conventional thermal-based separation processes. It saves energy, reduces operational cost, recovers precious metal and resources, while helping to save the environment,” explains Dr Prince.
Other advantages offered by Memsift Innovations include a very high water recovery at a minimum energy consumption, a small footprint for the treatment plants and minimum capital outlay for their clients.
This new pilot plant by START Centre and Memsift Innovations is expected to be commissioned in the second quarter of 2019. They will use the piloting results for the commercialisation of this innovative technology.
It will demonstrate a step towards the concept of a circular economy – where waste is turned into resources while recycling water for industrial purposes, reducing the need to draw on fresh water from the PUB network. This helps Singapore to conserve its supply of clean water produced through the Four National Taps strategy.
If the pilot tests are successful, Memsift will obtain a full license from NTUitive and commercialise it together with its proprietary solutions. The technology will be made available to other SG-MEM consortium members for commercial collaborations.
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Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Email: [email protected]
About Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has 33,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Engineering, Business, Science, Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and Graduate colleges. It also has a medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College London.
NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI) and Energy Research Institute @ NTU ([email protected]).
Ranked 12th in the world, NTU has also been placed the world’s top young university for the past five years. The University’s main campus is frequently listed among the Top 15 most beautiful university campuses in the world and it has 57 Green Mark-certified (equivalent to LEED-certified) building projects comprising more than 230 buildings, of which 95% are certified Green Mark Platinum. Apart from its main campus, NTU also has a campus in Singapore’s healthcare district.
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Memsift Innovations Pte Ltd is a technology-based start-up registered in Singapore. Memsift is providing solutions for high strength industrial effluent treatment, desalination, aqueous/organic separations and heat and mass transfer process and applications using their proprietary technologies. Its mission is to provide solutions to the industry for portable water supply, water recovery and reuse, brine treatment and zero liquid discharge (ZLD) in a cheaper and more efficient way for a sustainable environment using its proprietary membrane and thermal separation process. Its vision is to be a global market leader in brine treatment and zero liquid discharge. Additional information about Memsift is available at http://www.
About START Centre
The Separation Technologies Applied Research and Translation (START) Centre is set up as a national-level facility to bridge the translation gap between laboratory processes, results and testing, and full-scale final product, and to provide significant risk mitigation for the commercialisation of materials, equipment and processes related to separation technologies. The benefits are manifold. START serves as a vital platform for academic and research institutions to transform their innovative technologies into commercial products for key industry players. Additional information about START is available at start.ntuitive.sg.
START Centre is part of NTUitive, the Innovation and Enterprise company of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore). NTUitive supports NTU’s mission to develop an innovative ecosystem to encourage innovation, foster entrepreneurship and facilitate the commercialisation of research. It is responsible for managing the intellectual property assets of the University and to help take technology from the lab to the marketplace. Its activities are intended to translate the outcome of research efforts into economic benefits and improve people’s lives.
To find out more, visit http://www.