The Membrane Evolution: Standardized to Universal

Over the past 25 years, low-pressure membranes have been utilized in the water and wastewater market across various applications.

By Nathen Myers

Over the past 25 years, low-pressure membranes have been utilized in the water and wastewater market across various applications. During this time the market has evolved, including advancements in technology, a wider range of applications, vendors entering and exiting the market, and the optimization of the membrane system.

The need for optimization has become more prevalent as market competitiveness has increased. Vendors had to enhance their products, adhering to the most basic of attributes: quicker, better, cheaper.

One of the most common ways to achieve optimization is to standardize products. Repeatedly applying the same technique in part or whole can reduce cost or yield operational benefits. It is these qualities that help keep vendors competitive in today’s changing market. Examples of membrane standardization can be found in various concepts, including control logics, fabrication, mechanical/electrical design, skid sizes, membrane sizes, and operations.

In addition to reducing cost, membrane suppliers realized that reducing a client’s risk would provide a better positioning during bid time. This resulted in longer membrane warranties and the need to standardize warranty provisions based on operations such as cleaning types and frequency, chemical constraints, limitations of influent parameters, monitoring requirements, and recording detailed operational data.

However, standardization also has negative aspects. The more a vendor applies standards the less flexible the system becomes in its ability to accommodate new client or market requirements. The evolution to a Universal Membrane System (UMS) is one way to address certain requirements and concerns expressed by existing membrane plant owners:

What if the membrane replacement price substantially increases a few years after the original purchase?

What happens if a currently owned membrane system is not able to obtain replacement membranes?

What if the membranes foul long before their expected lifespan and a plant would like to try a different module type?

Yes, a UMS will address the above concerns; however, the end user must consider what other changes are required. It is possible that the end user might have to hire a third-party company to evaluate the changes needed in order to accommodate new membranes. Such revisions can include control logic and interconnecting piping to meet the operational needs of the new membranes and to maximize warranty.

The latter examples help explain why a UMS is much more than just changing membranes. When working with a UMS vendor, it is important to understand if a UMS has been designed mechanically and operationally to accommodate other viable replacement membranes with little modifications and without requiring a third-party expertise other than the support of the UMS vendor. A UMS must be developed with not only universal fittings but also control logic that is truly universal: any membrane verified by the UMS can be selected with substantially less revisions compared to other rack designs that provide universal fittings but standardize around operations that are specific to a single membrane element provider.

There are different approaches regarding UMS designs and understanding the options is the first step towards the plant manager making an educated decision that best fulfills treatment system needs.

About the Author: Nathen Myers is vice president of municipal sales for SUEZ and a member of the Board of Directors of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA). For more information about WWEMA, please visit

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