Membrane separation processes operate without heating and therefore use less energy than conventional thermal separation processes such as distillation, sublimation or crystallization. The separation process is purely physical and both fractions (permeate and retentate) can be used. Cold separation using membrane technology is widely used in the food technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Furthermore, using membranes enables separations to take place that would be impossible using thermal separation methods. For example, it is impossible to separate the constituents of azeotropic liquids or solutes which form isomorphic crystals by distillation or recrystallization but such separations can be achieved using membrane technology. Depending on the type of membrane, the selective separation of certain individual substances or substance mixtures is possible. Important technical applications include the production of drinking water by reverse osmosis (worldwide approximately 7 million cubic metres annually), filtrations in the food industry, the recovery of organic vapours such as petro-chemical vapour recovery and the electrolysis for chlorine production.
Ultrafiltration for a swimming pool
In waste water treatment, membrane technology is becoming increasingly important. With the help of ultra/microfiltration it is possible to remove particles, colloids and macromolecules, so that waste-water can be disinfected in this way. This is needed if waste-water is discharged into sensitive waters especially those designated for contact water-sports and recreation.
About half of the market is in medical applications such as use in artificial kidneys to remove toxic substances by hemodialysis and as artificial lung for bubble-free supply of oxygen in the blood.
Venous-arterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation scheme
The importance of membrane technology is growing in the field of environmental protection (NanoMemPro IPPC Database). Even in modern energy recovery techniques membranes are increasingly used, for example in fuel cells and in osmotic power plants.