Jul 6, 2018 | By Thomas

Nano Sun, a water technology start-up founded by a scientist from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), has launched a 3D printing plant to manufacture a new type of water treatment membrane. According to the company, the membranes can filter waste water five times faster than traditionally used polymer and ceramic membranes.

(left to right) Nano Sun founder and NTU Assoc Prof Darren Sun, engineer Zhang Lilin and MD Wong Ann Chai doing visual inspection on a completed membrane module. CREDIT: NTU Singapore

Unlike conventional membrane-manufacturing processes that use acids to make polymers porous that function as filters, Nano Sun 3D prints millions of nanofibers layered on top of each other, compressed into a thin membrane.

At the launch of its 3D printing plant yesterday, Nano Sun demonstrated the printing of the industry-standard PVDF (Polyvinylidene fluoride) polymer used in conventional water filtration membranes, which is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Using a proprietary 3D printer, Nano Sun can print millions of PVDF nano-fibres - each one five times thinner than a strand of hair - every second, which is accumulated on a backing material and compressed into an ultra-thin sheet of membrane.

This gives the membrane a much bigger surface area to trap or repel pollutants while allowing water molecules to pass through at a faster flow rate. By adjusting how thick or thin these unwoven fibres are layered on top of each other, the membrane can be made into microfiltration membranes and ultrafiltration membranes.

In the near future, Nano Sun will be able to print 600 sq m of these membranes every day. Further studies are now underway to develop even better anti-fouling additives which can be combined with other materials during the 3D printing process.

The new membrane allows for the construction of smaller wastewater treatment plants, lowering the costs for land, infrastructure and labour. It takes only four days to produce enough of these membranes to supply an average waste water plant, said NTU. It is also more resistant to breakage and biofouling, requiring less maintenance and brings about greater cost efficiencies.

Nano Sun's new 3D printing manufacturing plant, supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board, is the result of two-decade effort by its co-founder and NTU Associate Professor Darren Sun. "When there is a disruptive innovation leapfrogging conventional processes, others will soon follow," Sun said. "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."

CREDIT: NTU Singapore

Nano Sun's first customers to use this next-gen membrane will be two of the largest semiconductor multinational companies in Singapore and a new municipal wastewater treatment plant in China, which can treat up to 20 million litres of water per day - the equivalent of eight Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Nano Sun's Managing Director and co-founder Mr Wong Ann Chai said, with the three new wastewater treatment contracts, Nano Sun's annual revenue is expected to reach S$10 million this year, making it one of NTU's most successful spin-off companies to date.

"Most countries don't want to pollute their scarce surface water and underground water resources, which is why we've clinched a record value of contracts this year," Wong Ann Chai said.

Over the next three years, Nano Sun will expand its manpower from a Singaporean team of 18 engineers and staff to about 80, with membrane applications to be deployed in China, Indonesia and Philippines.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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