Modern urban wastewater treatment plant
Innovation Technology

Toxic Waste Reduced By Over 90 Percent With This New Membrane Water Treatment System

A new pilot plant to treat industrial wastewater is being built at a semiconductor company in Singapore. It has the potential to reduce the amount of liquid waste by over 90 percent. It can also recover precious metals from the treated water which can then be sold and reused.

The Separation Technologies Applied Research and Translation (START) Centre have paired up to build this national-level facility, along with Memsift Innovations Pte Ltd, a local water technology firm specializing in zero-liquid discharge water treatment systems. Together they plan to use the plant to develop and commercialize innovative separation and filtration technologies.

Professor Neal Chung at the National University of Singapore invented a new type of hollow-fiber membrane which is the basis of the pilot plants novel water treatment system. It has been licensed and scaled up for industrial application by the START Centre.

Hollow fibre membrane
Close up shot of the tri-bore hollow-fiber membrane commercialized jointly by START Centre and Memsift Innovations. It will be used in a new pilot wastewater treatment plant for a semiconductor factory in Singapore. (Credit: NTU Singapore)

Chung’s design is different from the typical hollow-fiber membrane, which resembles noodles with a hollow core like a straw. How? His new tri-bore hollow-fiber membrane has three hollow cores, allowing for a water flow rate which is about 30 percent higher. START Centre and Memsift Innovations will jointly build the wastewater treatment plant with the tri-bore hollow-fiber membranes under a new research partnership and licensing agreement.

It will be able to treat up to 5,000 liters per day for the semiconductor firm. In addition, the facility is expected to help the firm save up to 1.6 million liters of water a year resulting in a savings of $250,000 in disposal costs. It will filter over 90 percent of wastewater into clean water and while doing so, it will concentrate the metal waste into a liquid, which can then be sold to other companies. Furthermore, the pilot membrane filtration plant will carry out the disposal process using 5 times less energy than the current solution practiced by the semiconductor factory (which is to transport the toxic wastewater produced during their manufacturing to a wastewater disposal facility where it is incinerated).

Dr. Adil Minoo Dhalla, Managing Director of START Centre, Chief Operating Officer of NTU’s Nanyang Environmental and Water Research Institute (NEWRI), and the Chair of the Steering Committee of SG-MEM, Singapore’s National Membrane Consortium supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) said:

“This pilot plant marks the first of many local water innovations which START is translating for commercialization. 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.”

The novel tri-bore hollow-fiber membrane from START Centre will help to improve the efficiency of their patent-pending thermal separation process, which provides unique benefits over traditional brine treatment and zero-liquid discharge solutions, said Dr. J Antony Prince, Founder of Memsift Innovations. He explained:

“Our filtration process operates at relatively low pressures and temperatures as compared to the conventional thermal-based separation processes. It saves energy, reduces operational cost, recovers precious metal and resources, while helping to save the environment.”

Memsift Innovations offers other advantages as well, including a very high water recovery at minimum energy consumption, a small footprint for the treatment plants and minimum capital outlay for their clients.

This new pilot plant will demonstrate a step towards the concept of a circular economy. It will turn waste into resources while recycling water for industrial purposes, reducing the need to draw on fresh water from the PUB network. By doing so, it will help Singapore to conserve its supply of clean water produced through the Four National Taps strategy. The piloting results will then be used for the commercialization of this innovative technology.

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