A water treatment facility. / Photo by: DengdaiFengQi via Pixabay


Membrane water treatment systems have been used for several years to remove microbes, particulates, and other natural organic elements that ruin the taste and clarity of water. In a recent study, a team of engineers developed a new type of membrane that filters water faster than conventional models.

The newly developed membrane at Nano Sun was made with the use of the 3D printing process. The engineers used an industrial material called PVDF or polyvinylidene fluoride, a synthetic resin with high resistance to fire, electricity, and chemical attacks, which is also utilized in most water filtration membranes.

But instead of following the conventional process wherein acids are needed to make polymers porous, the engineers simply printed millions of PVDF nanofibers that are five times thinner than a hair strand. The nanofibers are compressed into a very thin sheet of the membrane that provides a bigger surface area to trap unwanted elements in water while allowing water molecules to pass freely with a faster flow rate, about five times faster.

To make the membrane a filtration system, the engineers simply adjusted the thickness or thinness of unwoven fibers which can produce either microfiltration or ultrafiltration membranes. In the future, the team will be able to manufacture 600 square meters of membranes daily. However, right now, further studies are needed to optimize the membranes.

"When there is a disruptive innovation leapfrogging conventional processes, others will soon follow. So we will need to be always one step ahead of our competitors, researching, designing and building advanced water treatment systems that are smaller, more efficient, and cost-competitive," said Darren Sun, an associated professor at Nanyang Technological University.

If the membranes become feasible for direct commercial and industrial applications, many wastewater treatment facilities will benefit from the lower cost of operation and reduced frequency of maintenance, since the material is resistant to breakage.