Forward osmosis: is China next to shake up the desalination sector?

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After completing installation of its second forward osmosis facility in Oman, Modern Water is now expanding eastwards with an agreement signed in China.

The UK-headquartered company has signed a Framework Agreement with Hangzhou Development Center of Water Treatment Technology (Hangzhou Water), in the People’s Republic of China.

The aim of the partnership will be to jointly identify and develop projects in China, including seawater desalination plants and other water-related opportunities.

In September Modern Water said it had completed commissioning of its 200 cubic metre per day forward osmosis desalination plant at Al Najdah in the Al Wusta region of Oman (see Water & Wastewater International magazine story).

Hangzhou Water is owned by National BlueStar (Group), which is part of the state-owned China National Chemical Corporation. Hangzhou Water specialises in membrane systems for industrial uses such as seawater desalination, industrial pure water preparation and water reuse.

The company owns four mainstream technologies-electro-osmosis (ED), reverse osmosis (RO), ultra-filtration (UF), and microfiltration (MF). It also has production lines for membranes of RO, NF, UF, and MF, and manufactures and sells 23 product lines in five sectors.

Hangzhou Water has won or been involved in approximately 60% of China’s current or planned desalination projects. Hangzhou Water has engineer, procure and construct (EPC) contracts as well membrane manufacturing and fabrication facilities.

Improved membrane materials are now allowing large scale desalination facilities to come online, with the 444,000 m3/day Victoria desalination plant in Melbourne, Australia recently opening for business and the 510,000 m3/day Soreq plant in Israel expected soon (see WWi story).

While RO technology – requiring pressure to force seawater through membranes and leave behind contaminants – is gaining traction and confidence globally, forward osmosis is still in its infancy on a widespread, commercial scale in comparison.

The latter instead requires a draw solution to create a driving force for freshwater to pass through the membrane (see WWi explaining the technology).

Modern Water calls its process Manipulated Osmosis, with the first plant located in Gibraltar supplying water for public consumption from May 2009. The company claims that energy consumption can be up to 30% lower than conventional reverse osmosis.

Last year Modern Water’s Monitoring Technologies division in the country contributed sales of more than £500,000 to the group.

Neil McDougall, executive chairman of Modern Water, said: “Sources estimating the industry in China will see new investment of up to RMB20 billion (US$3.2 billion) over the next four years.”

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