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Material-dependent membrane market report

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The technology to develop and manufacture membranes has become mature with polymeric membranes. BCC Research has revealed in its most recent report that this has kept costs steady but also impaired profit margins. In an industry where no ‘one size fits all’ filter system or membrane exists, growth will be modest over the forecast period.

Membranes are thin sheets or surface films, natural or man-made, with apertures through which small molecules may pass while larger ones are retained. At its most basic, a membrane serves as a sieve, separating solids from liquids forced through it. Membranes fabricated from various materials (mainly synthetic polymers) can efficiently filter particles down to the size range of molecules or ions. Microfiltration (MF) is the most ‘open’ of all the membrane filtration processes, with pore sizes in the range of 0.1 µm to 3.0 µm.

The global market for membrane MF, which reached almost US$1.9 billion in 2015, should total US$2.6 billion in 2020, reflecting a five year compound annual growth of 6.7%. The biotech, bioprocessing and pharmaceutical segments are expected to reach nearly US$1.5 billion in 2020 from US$1 billion in 2015, increasing at a five year CAGR of 7.7%. Drinking water as an application segment will grow from US$334 million in 2015 to US$473.9 million by 2020, reflecting a five year CAGR of 7.2%.

Ultrafiltration, the longevity of membrane life (anywhere from one year to 10 years), and the maturity of the industry are the biggest barriers to growth. Although some companies offer OEM membranes (for conversion by another party), the industry is growing toward turnkey modularisation, or complete systems.

The industry essentially has two profit streams: industrial and biopharmaceutical. By price per volume and replacement, biopharmaceutical filtration and labs offer the most profitable area. Purity level need, increasing global customers and the constant need to change out filters means that the same material will demand a higher price and will be continuously reordered.

Industrial filtration faces tough challenges because it is cost sensitive and relies on governmental infrastructure spending and the economy. Also, with membrane life expectancies at such high rates, the revenue generated from replacement filters will be far shorter than new filters going into new plants.

However, the increased use of industrial water reclamation and recycling has offered another avenue of growth. Semiconductor and electronics manufacturing is demanding increasing levels of water purity, which is driving market growth. However, this industry will depend on government regulations and manufacturing capacity expansion as the use of cross-flow filtration will have some filters lasting five years before change-out is required.

"Overall, the industry is fractionalised and material specific," says BCC Research Analyst, Lance Leverette. "The sheer number of competitors shows the maturity of the two most widely used materials polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) and polyethersulfone (PES). For some applications, membrane MF costs have dropped more than 80% since the 1990s. The improvement of membrane system economics has contributed to their rising popularity over sand, for example. In wastewater, the drop in cost has made some companies rely specifically on high revenue areas like biopharmaceutical while other companies have relied on large volume projects to drive growth."

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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