New coalition to coordinate research on membrane disposal

A coalition to coordinate applied research programmes to alleviate the disposal of used desalination and water treatment membranes was launched at the Singapore International Water Week on 1 July 2012.

The Coalition for Sustainable Membrane Development was founded by a group of not-for-profit and non-governmental organisations, equipment manufacturers and water utilities to develop innovative solutions to manage the growing volumes of used membrane elements that a discarded each year from desalination, water-reuse and drinking-water plants around the world.

The group seeks to proactively develop market/social mechanisms to turn “waste” into a resource that can benefit developing communities and reduce the environmental footprint of the world’s membrane industry. Their focus is to coordinate applied research programmes (such as the one at the University of New South Wales featured in the May/June 2012 issue of D&WR) to alleviate the disposal of used membranes.

Delegates at the conference were advised by Australian environmental leader Ian Kiernan of Clean up Australia, that the global water industry ignores the potential environmental backlash caused by huge stockpiles of used reverse-osmosis or ultrafiltration membranes, at its peril.

“It is no coincidence that Singapore and PUB (the national water agency) has shown industry leadership in convening an open forum workshop on this very issue,” he said. “The explosion in membrane-based water technologies for water and waste processes is no more evident than here in Singapore. Singapore has successfully harnessed these advanced water-separation technologies resulting in enormous strategic benefit to the nation”.

“The accumulation of used or spent membranes of all types, typically more than 10,000 tonnes globally per annum, are sent to landfill, and it is now a waste issue in all countries. The sooner the international industry identifies the disposal issue as an opportunity the better,” said Kiernan.

The potential of used membranes to transform health outcomes in developing communities was highlighted in an inspirational presentation by David Maina from Pureflow Kenya, whose organisation has successfully implemented community-based water kiosks in developing countries.

Maina said, “The potential availability of recovered and recycled membranes from water plants in developed countries can be readily applied to simple gravity potable-water installations in Africa with incredible impact”.

Membrane-based technologies provide a superior quality safe water at Maina’s Maji Safi (safe water) kiosks. The transition of these membranes is already being trialled via a managed pool into low-cost water plants throughout Kenya and wider Africa.

Each recovered ultrafiltration membrane that is typically sent to landfill can be utilised in a small community water kiosk to provide safe water for 500‑1,000 people per day. Maina says “this is real social action, the results are immediate, and the goodwill is genuinely two ways.