Membrane separation processes that remove water and raw materials from aqueous systems play an essential role to the operation of various industries. Synthetic membranes are used extensively to separate or concentrate materials from process streams based on particle/pore size and charge differences of the membrane. However, these membrane separation processes are energy demanding, and in fact are responsible for 7% of all energy consumed globally (AICheE Journal, 2012, 58). The advantage of reducing energy consumption has meant that membrane systems play a crucial role in meeting the 21st century challenges for environmental sustainability.
Swansea University published research on stringent theoretical frameworks for the first time on membrane optimisation procedures [R1]. These first principles were supported with further work on state-of-the-art characterisation techniques that pioneered the use of atomic force microscopy (AFM) to measure forces which govern separation behaviour [R2]. Advancements by Swansea research enabled membrane technology to be adopted as an energy efficient alternative to conventional separation processes such as evaporation[R1-5]. Within the healthcare sector membranes are used for dressings, tissue engineering scaffolds, and to separate high value products such as collagen or drugs. Swansea’s research has developed techniques for electrospinning of novel membranes which have been applied at scale to healthcare applications for the first time [R6].
Various industries have used our research to improve their processes. Axium Process (a Welsh SME and UK leading stainless steel fabricators specialising in hygienic engineering design, fabrication and system solutions) has built and deployed membrane systems for water treatment based on Swansea optimisation research, contributing over £1m to the economy (2014-2020) while also creating employment. First Milk (a British farmer owned dairy co-operative) adapted their process and replaced evaporators with Swansea membrane technology resulting in energy savings of over £3.5m over a six-year period, and in doing so reduced their carbon footprint.
In healthcare, Swansea’s research has derived significant commercial impact. Hybrisan (a Swansea based company specialising in electrospinning) have utilised Swansea’s membrane research to produce fibres of different sizes and embed antimicrobials in membranes for aerospace filters and would dressings. Resulting in private investment, new products, sales and new job creation. ProColl (a Swansea University spin-out company) has increased manufacture of collagen by adopting extraction processes generated from Swansea research. This saw ProColl make a significant move from gram (g) scale production to kilogram (kg) scale. Increasing the commercial viability of their process enabled them to exploit the novel membrane extraction of collagens at scale for the first time, securing private investment and contracting sales over £3m.