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Porex: a key player in water technology

For 50 years, Porex's porous polymer materials has offered quality engineering solutions catering to healthcare, manufacturing, industrial and consumer markets addressing wicking, filtration, diffusion, venting, and thermal management needs. With sites all over the world, such as in USA, Germany, Scotland, India and China, Porex Corporation is moving forward with its global reach.

On 26 April 2018, the company opened its manufacturing plant in Shah Alam, Malaysia, to continue expansion in the Asia Pacific Region.

Speakers for the event included Jon Peacock (president, life sciences, Porex), Nils Gustavsson (senior vice president and general manager, Porex), Rod Shough (senior vice president, human resources, life sciences, filtration group, Porex) and Cheh Kah Mun (managing director, Porex). The new facility has double the operating space—along with their manufacturing plant in Ningbo, China—for the production of their unique fiber capabilities, to best serve local and international markets in Asia.

The company also boasts of an impressive safety record (zero accidents) in 2017, which aligns with Porex’s values and vision as an organization. Precautionary measures are taken to the highest importance. Aside from providing quality, innovative and collaborative solutions for their diverse clients, the top management also highlights that the safety and well-being of their employees as priority.

After the launch, APBN was able to sit down with (L-R) Nils Gustavsson and Hang Gek Low (president, filtration group, Porex) to give insights in water technology, specifically water filtration, and how POREX plays a role.

Tell us more about the different filtration processes.

Nils Gustavsson: We can work with many polymer compositions. The one that we use most is polyethylene or PE. We also use Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) for softness factors. If we talk about how we determine the material to use, we first look at the structure which would be bonded fiber or sintered particles, or foam and then we consider the material to use. And those two factors pretty much determine a functioning solution to meet the customer requirements and what they need to have in their end product.

Let’s say the customer wants to wick a liquid so with fiber, you can do that very quickly because the fiber structure is mono-directional which makes the liquid go fast in one direction. With porous particles, you might want to wick a little slower. If you want to fill an area with an exact amount of liquid, the best solution would be a porous particle structure. Because of the materials used and the volume of the structure, when you weigh it—you will know exactly how much air is in it. Thus, when the air is replaced with liquid, you know how much liquid is in it. This ability can be very important in biomedical type applications. Lastly, if the customer needs to absorb something and not let it go, foam works really work.

Because of the many functional behaviors of our materials and structures, our first question to the customer is, “What is it that you need to have happen? What do you need this component to do for your end product?” We receive all these physical and dimensional requirements, which we take back to our engineers, who evaluate and suggest which might be the best material or the best technology for the solution.

Hang Gek Low: In terms of water filtration, we have delivered separations from a few nanos to a few microns. Depending on the problem a customer is trying to solve, we engineer a customized solution accordingly.

What applications are Porex’s water filtration systems mostly used in?

Hang Gek Low: There are quite a few niches. One area is water purification from home drinking water to ultra-pure water for semi-conductor fabs. Another is effective removal of all kinds of solids and salts from waste water so that the effluents can be reused leading to Zero Liquid Discharge in various industrial applications.

Porex has manufactured porous materials filters for many years. How has the water filtration technology changed over the years?

Hang Gek Low: Water filtration is a long cycle business. It could take weeks to run a pilot solution, months to optimize the operations of a new project, and up to a decade for a new solution to be recognized and became widely adopted. Porex’s strength is unique because we are innovation engineers. Our biggest focus is helping customers to deliver better solutions by working with the system engineer to come up with a total package of materials and technology. We are working with customers from a minute filter in a home water purifier supplying cooking and drinking water, up to a power plant that uses 1,000 tons of water an hour.

Nils Gustavsson: Globally, water is becoming a sparse resource. Porex focuses on reducing industrial waste of water. Our products recycle the water used in industrial manufacturing, to avoid environmental pollution.

The other consideration is to use water economically. For instance, river water is mostly not drinkable. There is a lot of need to clean water for point of use, so that you get more consumption of water that is normally not consumable.

What challenges are facing the water industry right now?

Nils Gustavsson: One of the biggest things that we hear from our customers is the economic barriers. For instance, there are different technologies to desalinate water from the oceans in order to drink it. But the cost is extremely high. For an industrial type water conservation, the cost factors are quite good and most industries work to conserve water and recycle it. But it is a conservative industry, and it tends to look at new innovations with some caution. They need assurance that the new technology works and is sufficient. More importantly, they will want to test new innovations and it could take years before they are comfortable enough to impose it.

Hang Gek Low: Same point. It’s the bandwidth. If you want to do water treatment, most of the conventional solutions can do a good job. But if you have a quantum leap in volume treated, or purification level targeted, the solution can frequently be optimized. However, many of our customers want the improvements to be exclusive so that they can better compete. Therefore, many of our innovations are not widely shared or implemented. This slows down the potential water treatment possibilities in the world.

What trends do you observe in the global and Asia-Pacific water filtration market?

Hang Gek Low: I think the trend in this market is rising. The only thing that is decreasing is unit prices on high volume commodity products due to the rise of Chinese manufacturers. In general, we see four emerging trends everywhere that demanded better solutions. In water resource conservation, for example in China, water table near Beijing have dropped 300 meters over the past four decades and the only solution is to conserve water by eliminating wastes. Coal power plants are some of the largest water consumers with each of the 1,100 plants discharging over 100tons of waste water an hour. Over the past 12 months, about 20 plants are implementing waste water recirculation projects. Porex is working with the all the major Design Institutes and Engineering & Procurement Companies to optimize implemented solutions, and with the North China Electric Power University to consolidate findings so that cost effective solutions can be cascaded across the country.

Another one would be pollution control. With rapid industrialization all over Asia, we are seeing waste water being treated more at source. Zero Liquid Discharge programs are being implemented by electroplating, electronics, textiles and chemical industries.

Thirdly, would be water purification across various industrial production processes but each application is unique. For example, one of Porex’s programs focuses on chemical-free water purification so that semi-conductor customers can improve yields on the latest wafer fabs.

Closer to homes, Porex is developing better UV-reflective components for improved disinfection in water purifiers. So, we are seeing growth everywhere.

This interview was conducted by Catherine Domingo Ong.

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APBN Editorial Calendar 2018
January:
Obesity / Outlook for 2018
February:
Searching for the fountain of youth
March:
Women in Science - Making a difference
April:
Digestive health in the 21st century - Trust your guts
May:
Dental health - The root to good health
June:
Cancer - Therapies and strategies for better patient outcomes
July:
Water management - Technologies for biotech and pharmaceutical industries
August:
Regenerative technology - Meat of the future
September:
Doctor Robot - The digital healthcare revolution
October:
Bones / Breast cancer
November:
Liver health / Top science research nations & institutions
December:
AIDS / Breakthrough of the year/Emerging trends
Editorial calendar is subjected to changes.
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