June 1, 2009
Scientists at IBM Research, together with collaborators from Tokyo-based Central Glass, the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology and ...

IBM Makes Water Clean With Smarter, More Energy-Efficient Purification

Scientists at IBM Research, together with collaborators from Tokyo-based Central Glass, the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology and the University of Texas at Austin have created a new membrane that filters out salts as well as potentially harmful toxins in water such as arsenic while using less energy than other forms of water purification.

The collaborative research team has designed a new concept in membrane materials that combines resistance to chlorine damage and high performance separation behavior in mildly basic conditions, making it suitable for arsenic removal in addition to water desalination.

“As clean water becomes more scarce and disease from impure water impacts more of the world's population, the race to find efficient methods to purify this important resource is at a critical juncture,” said Bob Allen, manager of the water purification project at the IBM Almaden Research Center. “The kind of research we're doing, and the promising results we're seeing, stand to create a whole new paradigm for how we manage natural resources such as water.”

Because of its unique chemistry, the membrane contains ionizable hydrophobes that undergo a dramatic change when they encounter mildly basic conditions -- they become substantially hydrophilic. In short, the membrane, which is made with fluorine materials, transforms from a low water transporting filter to a high water transporting state in a basic environment -- what the researchers call a “water superhighway.”

Fortuitously, high pH also causes arsenic to become ionic resulting in a relatively easy separation by desalination membranes. Because of these conditions and reactions, when contaminated water is forced through the membrane, the arsenic is filtered out.

“Access to fresh drinking water is more than a regional challenge; it's a global challenge,” said Dr. Turki AlSaud, vice president for research institutes, KACST. “Currently, Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of desalinated water in the world, and the kingdom continues to invest in research and development to make access to fresh water more affordable. Our collaborative research with IBM is providing innovative technological solutions and paving the way toward cost effective technologies in the field of membranes for water desalination that will help meet the increasing global demand of fresh, clean water.”

For more information about IBM Research, please visit

H2O Innovation Wins CAN$5.1 Million in Contracts

H2O Innovation Inc. has been awarded four new drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment contracts in the United States and Canada. These contracts totaling CAN$5.1 million bring the company's sales backlog to CAN$24.6 million as at March 16, 2009.

H2O Innovation has been awarded two municipal drinking water contracts in the United States. First, the Alameda County Water District has selected the company to expand the capacity of its existing desalination facility, from 5 mgd to 10 mgd. H2O Innovation's performance on the design and supply of the original system in 2001 was a key factor in securing the contract. Under the new contract, the company will design and furnish equipment and components for two reverse osmosis units that will be delivered to the district's existing Newark Desalination Facility. Water treated by this system will be blended with well water and chlorinated prior to distribution for potable use.

The second municipal drinking water contract involves the design, fabrication and supply of water filtration process equipment for a two-train RO system with a combined capacity of 1.67 mgd for the Clay Center Public Utilities Commission, KS, to treat ground water for potable use. The equipment will be shipped fully shop assembled from the company's factory.

H2O Innovation has also signed two wastewater treatment systems contracts, one in Canada and one in the United States. Through its full-service office in Calgary, Alberta, the company has been awarded a contract to build a 20,000 gpd wastewater treatment system for the Elinor Lake Resort property development in Lac La Biche County, Alberta, with the possibility of building a second phase to double the system's capacity.

In the United States, H2O Innovation will deliver a 10,000 gpd wastewater treatment system using the proprietary Bio-Wheel™ technology to the Moss-Nuckols Elementary School in Louisa County, VA. The company's systems were selected for their small footprint, ease of installation, and low operating costs.

World Demand for Membranes to Exceed $15 Billion in 2012

Global demand for membranes is projected to increase a healthy 8.6 percent annually to over $15 billion in 2012. Increased attention paid to water quality, the disposal of industrial and other waste streams, and food and beverage safety regulations will propel membrane sales. Gains in global membrane demand will also be driven by interest in water reuse and material reclamation because of the rising price of raw water and other inputs, and concerns about the environment, particularly water scarcity in many parts of the world. While growth in membrane sales is expected to be strong in nearly every region, the underlying reasons for that growth can vary widely.

These and other trends are presented in World Membranes, a new study from The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based industry research firm.

North America, the largest regional market, accounted for one-third of global membrane sales in 2007 and will advance a strong 8.3 percent annually through 2012. Gains in the US market are projected to be aided by upgrades of water treatment techniques to accommodate newer water quality regulations and the use of low quality water resources in the water-stressed regions. Also, a growing number of industries use membranes to reduce water use and waste disposal expenditures. Unlike in many other industries, the US is expected to account for a larger share of global growth than China through 2012.

In developing countries, gains are based on the continued growth of water-intensive industries, increased need to tap brackish or otherwise poor quality water resources, and rising investment in modernizing water and waste infrastructure. However, in many of the least developed countries -- especially in Africa and parts of South Asia – growth will be more limited due to lack of adequate funding and local corruption that impedes progress.

Much of the Middle East has invested heavily in seawater and brackish water treatment to ensure a sufficient supply of water for drinking, agricultural and industrial purposes. Until recently, much of that came from thermal distillation plants; however, even oil-rich nations are increasingly shifting to more efficient desalination systems based on reverse osmosis membranes.

Maturity contributes to growth in Western Europe and Japan that is well below the global average. Still, the increased emphasis on conservation through water recycling will boost sales. The relative affluence of these countries allows use of advanced technologies despite their high upfront costs.

For more information on the report, visit

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