Singapore's water membrane technology is taking a big step in China, following a S$4.3 million joint venture between Nanyang Technological University Singapore's (NTU Singapore) spin-off NanoSun and the China Commerce Group for International Economic Cooperation (CCIEC), a majority state-owned enterprise headquartered in Beijing.
The collaboration will see the NTU Singapore start-up deploy its advanced membrane technology to treat industrial wastewater in the Qingdao National High-Tech Industrial Development Zone, a 20 sq km industrial zone in Shandong.
This joint venture is expected to act as a springboard to China's billion-dollar industrial wastewater treatment market. As a start, the partners have taken orders to treat one million litres of wastewater from the textile industry to be delivered by August this year.
Within the next 3 to 4 years, the partnership is expected to treat about 100 million litres of wastewater. To achieve this, it has in place a clear business strategy which is highly technology intensive, market-driven and ably supported by China's manufacturing capabilities and supply chain. There are also plans by the partners to market the membrane products internationally in the near future.
NanoSun, a two-year-old start-up, was co-founded by NTU Singapore Associate Professor Darren Sun from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mr Wong Ann Chai, the Managing Director of NanoSun.
The partnership will leverage a self-cleaning, 3D-printed membrane water filter technology developed by NanoSun which is able to clean industrial wastewater that conventional membranes find hard to treat. The patented system is not only able to meet discharge standards, but is also suitable for water reclamation. Water reclamation is an essential part of the strategy to encourage industries to reduce water usage by recycling.
"What we will demonstrate at Qingdao will be an affordable but effective technology that can turn polluted and industrial wastewater into a source of clean water, without the generation of secondary waste which other systems have. We see great potential for our innovative made-in-NTU technology to succeed in China and beyond," said Prof Sun, who is Chairman of the Chemical Industries Specialty Group of the International Water Association, which advances sustainable water management.
Mr Chen Yu, President of CCIEC said, "There is an increasing demand for the industry to treat wastewater better and faster. I believe that applying NanoSun's technology at a large scale will increase the efficiency of water treatment and reduce the impact of environmental pollution. That is why we would like to cooperate with NanoSun to start this transformation."
Faster filtration technology
The made-in-NTU 3D-printed membrane from NanoSun lasts twice as long when compared to conventional membranes. It is also highly resistant to breakage and has anti-bacterial and anti-biofouling properties. Another ground-breaking characteristic - it allows for an unprecedented flow rate of at least ten times faster than current water filtration membranes.
"NanoSun technology cannot be developed without market inputs. Many communities are water-stressed, facing a shortage of clean drinking water or pollution in their water sources. This is where cost-effective yet efficient solutions can make a huge impact to people's lives," said Mr Wong Ann Chai, who is also an adjunct professor with the Nanyang Business School.
The joint venture is expected to further boost NanoSun's efforts to increase its range of water treatment products to meet industrial demand. The start-up will also be working with various NTU schools to develop new membranes with innovative materials and processes.