Already the dominant technology for desalination, membrane-based water treatment is expanding into markets that were once the exclusive domain of chemical, biological and basic filtration technologies. As the opportunities multiply for new and established membrane technologies, the total market will grow from $1.5 billion in 2009 to $2.8 billion in 2020, according to a new report from Lux Research.

Titled “Filtering Out Growth Prospects in the $1.5 Billion Membrane Market,” the report projects the volume of water that will be treated by membranes in 10 market segments, including desalination, municipal water recycling, industrial process water and wastewater treatment, cooling tower and boiler water treatment – as well as in emerging market segments such as oil and gas extraction. It details market size and growth for the four major categories of membranes – reverse osmosis (RO), nanofiltration, ultrafiltration and microfiltration.

“Despite the groundswell of growth opportunities beyond RO desalination, entrepreneurs and investors contemplating a leap into the membrane market can expect some challenges ahead,” says Lux’s Reka Sumangali, the report’s lead author. “A lack of differentiation is driving down product prices, while development of more efficient, longer lasting membranes will keep margins low.”

Lux Research’s report provides strategic insights and analysis on membrane markets, technologies and applications for those with a vested interest in the membrane market. Among its key observations:

  • RO membranes are the largest technology, but ultrafiltration is set for fast growth. Reaching $1.3 billion in 2020, RO membranes will continue to be the biggest segment of the market. However, fueled in part by their promise in treating municipal wastewater, industrial process water, and other types of water, ultrafiltration membranes should see a healthy 6.5 percent compound annual growth rate, expanding from $0.4 billion in 2009 to nearly $0.7 billion in 2020.

  • Although market size grows for RO, profits become more elusive. RO membrane prices have been eroded by a lack of differentiation, and undercut by competition from Chinese manufacturers. Providers have fought back by bundling value-added services and chemicals with their membranes, or tapping new technologies to improve membrane performance. But the limited number of solutions has forced most providers to pursue similar paths, and the lack of differentiation – and cost erosion – will persist.

  • Recycled municipal water will boom. In regions of extreme water stress, such as India and China, the idea of municipal water recycling is catching on. The Indian government alone plans to spend several billion dollars over the next 5 years to 10 years treating the Ganges River. This expansion in municipal water filtration will drive growth in membranes for ultrafiltration, microfiltration, and low-pressure RO.