Water startup to improve seawater desalination with innovative RO technology

According to Jaime Mateus, CEO of Anfiro, a water technology startup addressing global freshwater scarcity, his company -- based on innovations from Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame -- could improve membranes used in seawater desalination plants.

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN, and CAMBRIDGE, MA, Oct. 8, 2015 -- According to Jaime Mateus, Ph.D., CEO of Anfiro, a water technology startup addressing global freshwater scarcity, his company -- based on innovations from Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame -- could improve the membranes used in seawater desalination plants and industries such as food and beverage, oil and gas, and pulp and paper.

Mateus explained that the company is developing reverse osmosis membranes, which are capable of separating water from all other dissolved ions commonly found in water. In conventional usage, membranes can be permanently damaged by chlorine, which is the most widely used water disinfectant, but Anfiro's membranes are not damaged during the process, which saves time, energy and cost, he said.

"In a typical seawater desalination process, chlorine is added upstream of the reverse osmosis stage, then removed before passing through the membranes. Afterward, a residual amount is reintroduced into the system," Mateus said. "Anfiro's polymer materials are not degraded by exposure to chlorine, which means chlorine can be used throughout the reverse osmosis stage, which reduces bio-fouling and can lead to a longer membrane lifespan."

Anfiro's core technology is based on self-assembling polymer technology. The company licensed part of its technology from the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. More than 20 startups fully or partially based on Purdue intellectual property were launched in the 2015 fiscal year.

"In a seawater reverse osmosis process, energy can represent 50 to 70 percent of the operational cost, so decreasing the operating pressure and energy use has a direct impact on the user's bottom line," Mateus said. "Because Anfiro's membranes can attain a much higher permeability than current technology, they can be operated at a lower pressure while still delivering a sufficiently high flow rate."

Mateus said other technologies to create novel membranes have been proposed, including graphene, nanotubes and aquaporin-based membranes. He said they hold promise but are not easily mass-manufactured and may not be cost competitive with traditional manufacturing methods.

Anfiro has received several awards, grants and prizes including a $50,000 prize in the 2014 MassChallenge accelerator competition; a $50,000 Desalination Innovation Prize sponsored by General Electric and Saudi Aramco; a research grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center's Catalyst Award; the Headwaters Innovation Prize at the 2015 Symposium on Water Innovation; and it was a finalist in the 2014 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Business Plan Competition.

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