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New membrane technology could drastically reduce liquid waste

From desalination and potable water reuse to robotic swans that monitor water quality, Singapore has a history of investing in water innovation. Now, the city-state is building a plant to treat industrial wastewater that could reduce the amount of liquid waste by 90%.

Located at a semiconductor company, the pilot plant will use a hollow fibre membrane invented by Professor Neal Chung from the National University of Singapore.

Unlike typical hollow fibre membranes that have a single core like a straw, Chung’s has three hollow cores. This allows for a 30% higher flow rate than traditional membranes.

The plant will use the membranes to filter more than 90% of wastewater into clean water. This is expected to save the semiconductor company about $260,000 a year in disposal costs, as it currently transports liquid waste produced during the manufacturing process to a wastewater disposal facility for incineration.

It will also recover precious metals from the treated water. The metals will then be turned into a liquid that can be sold.

The project is a joint initiative from membrane company Memsift Innovations and the Separation Technologies Applied Research and Translation (START) Centre, which aims to turn membrane research from Singapore’s universities into real products.

START Centre Managing Director Dr Adil Minoo Dhalla said Chung’s membrane is the first in a series of local water innovations that START is taking to a commercial market.

“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,” he said.

Dhalla said the plant is a step towards a circular economy, where waste is turned into a resource and water is recycled for industrial purposes, reducing the need to draw on fresh water.

The plant is expected to be commissioned before July.