Nanofiltration and Membrane Technologies for Water Purification

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Nanofiltration and membrane technologies encompass a range of filtration processes that utilize specialized membranes to separate contaminants from water. These membranes act as selective barriers, allowing water molecules to pass through while rejecting unwanted substances like salts, minerals, bacteria, viruses, and organic pollutants. These technologies play a critical role in water purification, desalination, wastewater treatment, and industrial water reuse.

Impact on climate action

Nanofiltration and membrane technologies optimize water use, crucial for climate action. By filtering contaminants efficiently, they enhance water purification processes, conserving resources and reducing energy-intensive treatment. This innovation minimizes water wastage and pollution, fostering sustainable practices vital for mitigating climate change’s impacts on water scarcity and quality.


  • Membrane Filtration: This process involves using a porous membrane to separate substances based on their size and charge. Different types of membranes, including microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis, are used depending on the desired level of filtration.
  • Nanofiltration (NF): A specific type of membrane filtration that utilizes membranes with a pore size typically in the nanometer range. NF membranes are highly effective in removing dissolved organic matter, multivalent ions (like calcium and magnesium), and some viruses, making them suitable for a wide range of water treatment applications.
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO): A more advanced membrane technology that employs a semi-permeable membrane and pressure to remove a wider range of contaminants, including salts, minerals, and most organic pollutants. RO is commonly used for desalination and producing high-purity water.

TRL : 8-9

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Biomimetic Membranes: Researchers are developing membranes inspired by natural biological systems, such as cell membranes, to improve filtration efficiency and reduce fouling (the buildup of contaminants on the membrane surface).
  • Anti-Fouling Membrane Coatings: New membrane materials and coatings are being developed to resist fouling, extending the lifespan of membranes and reducing maintenance costs.
  • Forward Osmosis (FO): This emerging technology uses a semi-permeable membrane and a “draw solution” with high osmotic pressure to extract water from a feed solution, offering a more energy-efficient alternative to RO in certain applications.
  • Membrane Distillation (MD): This process uses a hydrophobic membrane to separate water vapor from saline water using a temperature gradient, enabling water purification and desalination with lower energy consumption.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Selective Barrier Filtration
  • Nanoscale Filtration Techniques
  • Membrane-Based Water Purification
  • Advanced Membrane Materials
  • Biomimicry in Membrane Design
  • Fouling Resistance Strategies
  • Next-Generation Membrane Coatings
  • Energy-Efficient Desalination Methods
  • Sustainable Water Reuse Technologies
  • Forward Osmosis Applications
  • Membrane Distillation Processes
  • Membrane Technology Advancements
  • Enhanced Water Treatment Efficiency
  • Contaminant Removal Strategies

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Puraffinity:
    • Technology Focus: Puraffinity is likely focused on developing nanofiltration and membrane technologies for water purification and remediation purposes. Their innovations might include advanced filtration membranes designed to remove specific contaminants from water sources.
    • Uniqueness: Puraffinity could stand out for its focus on targeted contaminant removal using nanotechnology-based filtration solutions. Their technology might offer higher efficiency and selectivity compared to traditional filtration methods.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions could be applicable across various industries, including wastewater treatment, drinking water purification, industrial process water treatment, and environmental remediation.
  • Nanostone Water:
    • Technology Focus: Nanostone Water likely specializes in ceramic membrane technologies for water treatment applications. Their innovations may involve the development of robust and high-performance ceramic membranes for filtration and purification purposes.
    • Uniqueness: Nanostone Water could differentiate itself through its expertise in ceramic membrane technology, offering solutions known for their durability, resistance to fouling, and high filtration efficiency.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include industries requiring advanced water treatment solutions, such as municipal water utilities, industrial wastewater treatment plants, food and beverage production facilities, and desalination plants.
  • Oasys Water:
    • Technology Focus: Oasys Water is likely focused on membrane-based desalination and water purification technologies. Their innovations might include novel membrane materials and system designs aimed at improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of desalination and water treatment processes.
    • Uniqueness: Oasys Water could be unique in its approach to desalination and water purification, offering innovative solutions that reduce energy consumption, operating costs, and environmental impact compared to conventional methods.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions could target industries and regions facing water scarcity or contamination issues, including coastal municipalities, industrial facilities, agricultural operations, and remote communities.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA):
    • Technology Enhancements: UCLA researchers are working on enhancing nanofiltration membranes to improve water filtration efficiency and selectivity. They are exploring advanced nanomaterials and surface modifications to enhance membrane performance and durability.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UCLA’s approach involves the integration of nanotechnology, materials science, and engineering principles to develop next-generation nanofiltration membranes. Their research focuses on overcoming existing limitations such as fouling, scaling, and low permeability.
    • End-use Applications: The nanofiltration membranes developed at UCLA have applications in various sectors, including water treatment, desalination, and wastewater reuse. These membranes can effectively remove contaminants such as salts, heavy metals, and organic pollutants, making them suitable for both municipal and industrial water purification.
  • Imperial College London:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Imperial College London are exploring novel membrane materials and manufacturing techniques to enhance water filtration performance and reduce energy consumption. They are investigating the use of advanced polymers, ceramics, and nanocomposites for membrane fabrication.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Imperial College’s research emphasizes the development of sustainable membrane technologies for water treatment and resource recovery. They are investigating integrated membrane systems that combine filtration, adsorption, and chemical processes to maximize water reuse and minimize environmental impact.
    • End-use Applications: The membrane technologies developed at Imperial College have applications in decentralized water treatment, agricultural irrigation, and industrial process water recycling. These membranes can help improve water use efficiency and address water scarcity challenges in both developed and developing regions.
  • Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore:
    • Technology Enhancements: NTU researchers are focusing on developing nanocomposite membranes with enhanced mechanical strength, chemical resistance, and fouling resistance. They are exploring innovative approaches such as surface patterning, functionalization, and self-cleaning coatings to improve membrane performance.
    • Uniqueness of Research: NTU’s research integrates nanotechnology, polymer science, and environmental engineering to address key challenges in water filtration and purification. Their research emphasizes the scalability and cost-effectiveness of membrane technologies for large-scale water treatment applications.
    • End-use Applications: The nanofiltration membranes developed at NTU have applications in urban water supply, industrial wastewater treatment, and agricultural irrigation. These membranes can effectively remove contaminants while minimizing energy consumption and operational costs, making them suitable for sustainable water management practices.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Nanofiltration and membrane technologies are widely implemented commercially in various water treatment and purification applications. Reverse osmosis is a dominant technology for desalination, providing a significant portion of freshwater supplies in water-scarce regions. Nanofiltration is increasingly being used for drinking water treatment, removing dissolved organic matter and other contaminants. Membrane bioreactors (MBRs), which combine membrane filtration with biological treatment, are gaining popularity for municipal and industrial wastewater treatment.