Forward osmosis system commercialization

Review of commercialization opportunities for forward osmosis systems

Forward osmosis system commercialization
image from htiwater.com

Today, FO based systems are primarily used in niche applications where traditional pressure driven filtration membranes cannot be used. The US based company Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI) is currently commercially exploring such niche applications within survival systems, food concentration, landfill leachate, and oil and gas wastewater treatment. In addition, the UK based company, Modern Water, has designed and implemented forward osmosis systems in Oman for desalination of seawater and is also looking into forward osmosis systems for evaporative cooling towers. Very little information is publicly available on the FO-related revenue realized by HTI and Modern Water. Our best guesstimate puts the combined yearly revenue in a ballpark region of 10-20 million USD/year.

When estimating the future business potential of FO systems, it is helpful to first consider the range of FO system types and their main application areas. Previously we have described stand-alone FO systems and hybrid FO systems and their 4 main application areas:

Stand-alone FO systems

  1. Water extractors for industrial process optimization
  2. Osmotic power generators for energy production

Hybrid FO systems

  1. Seawater desalination systems for production of potable water
  2. Wastewater treatment systems for wastewater reduction and parallel production of reusable process water

Each of the 4 FO system application areas underlined above posses inherent promoting and inhibiting factors when it comes to commercialization. These factors are summarized below:

Application area Typical size of FO installation (installed membrane area) Commercialization promoters Commercialization inhibitors
Water extractors for industrial process optimization(Stand-alone FO systems) 100 – 10000m2 Unique low-energy value proposition for FO systemsThe economical value generated for end-users is greater than the value of recycled water, which is beneficial from a system pricing point of view
The small/medium membrane footprint means that systems can be commercialized based on a supply chain of small/medium scale FO membrane producers
Retrofitting FO systems to existing operations is challenging both from a technical and operational point of view
Implementing FO systems in new facilities requires potentially costly co-localization of relevant wastewater streams
Identifying suitable industrial application areas is challenging and requires in-depth process knowledge in a wide range of industries
Osmotic power generators for energy production
(Stand-alone FO systems)
>100000m2 Unique value proposition for FO systems (only FO systems can be used for membrane based osmotic power generators)
Energy prices are increasing as the availability of fossil fuels decreases
Large volume, low-cost, and high performance PRO membranes most likely wont be commercially available for another 5 years
Seawater desalination systems for production of potable water
(Hybrid FO/RO/NF/MD system)
>50000m2 Decreasing global fresh water supplies, increasing energy prices, and environmental demands are creating a pull in the market for more productive water production systems. Hybrid FO/RO//NF/MD systems can reduce energy operational consumption in water production while in parallel reducing the cost of wastewater treatment Large volume, low-cost, and high performance FO membranes most likely wont be commercially available for another 3 years
Implementing FO systems in new facilities requires potentially costly co-localization of relevant wastewater streams
Convincing price sensitive end users in the water production industry of the economical benefits of hybrid FO/RO/BWRO/NF systems requires extensive pilot plant field test data
Wastewater treatment systems for wastewater reduction and parallel production of reusable process water
(Hybrid FO/RO/NF/MD system)
100 – 10000m2 The economical value generated for end-users is greater than the value of recycled water, which is beneficial from a system pricing point of view
Many industrial processes generate wastewater, which is very difficult to treat with conventional membrane technologies. Prime examples can be found in the oil & gas and textile dyeing industries
The small/medium membrane footprint means that systems can be commercialized based on a supply chain of small/medium scale FO membrane producers
Convincing end users in the water treatment industry of the economical benefits of hybrid FO/RO/NF/MD systems requires proof-of-principle / pilot plant data

 

Based on the summary above of commercialization inhibitors and promoters, it is the opinion of ForwardOsmosisTech that short-term (1-3 year time horizon) FO system commercialization efforts should be focused on hybrid wastewater treatment systems for wastewater reduction and parallel production of reusable process water.  From a long-term (> 3 years) perspective, FO system commercialization efforts should focus on hybrid seawater desalination systems. If the PRO membrane technology experiences a sudden burst of improvement resulting in commercially available large volume, low-cost, high performance membrane products, osmotic power generators are also of commercial interest.

 

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