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Comment Water Treatment

The commercial launch of 3-D-printed membranes

By Gerald Ondrey |

Last month, Nano Sun, a water technology start-up founded by a scientist from Nanyang Technological University (NTU; Singapore; www.ntu.edu.sg) launched a 3-D-printing facility to manufacture a new type of water-treatment membrane. Unlike conventional membrane-manufacturing processes, which use acids to make polymers porous so they can function as filters, Nano Sun uses a proprietary 3-D printer, which can print millions of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) nanofibers per second. The fibers accumulate onto a backing material and are then compressed into an ultra-thin membrane sheet. By adjusting how thick or thin these unwoven fibers are layered on top of each other, the membrane can be made into microfiltration and ultrafiltration membranes. Further studies are now underway to develop improved anti-fouling additives, which can be combined with other materials during the printing process.

The resulting membrane is said to have a faster water flowrate than conventional membranes, despite having a similar pollutant-rejection rate. This property makes it possible to build smaller wastewater-treatment plants, which lowers the costs for land, infrastructure and labor. The new membrane is also said to be more resistant to breakage and biofouling than those made by conventional methods, thereby requiring less maintenance and increased cost efficiencies.

The first deployments of this next-generation membrane will be for two of the largest multinational semiconductor companies in Singapore and at a new municipal wastewater treatment plant in China, which can treat up to 20 million L/d of water.

Nano Sun’s new 3-D-printing manufacturing plant is the culmination of a two-decade effort by its co-founder and NTU associate professor Darren Sun, with support from the Singapore Economic Development Board.

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