Demand for membrane materials is expected to increase 8.2 percent per year to $4.3 billion in 2012, according to a study by The Freedonia Group ( The study predicts growth will be driven by ongoing interest in process fluids with higher purity levels in a variety of markets, as well as the introduction of increasingly strict environmental regulations concerning the quality of water and wastewater streams.

Polymeric membrane materials are expected to continue to dominate the market, based on their lower initial costs and greater product flexibility than nonpolymeric materials. Cellulosic membranes, the least expensive materials, accounted for the largest share of polymeric membranes — nearly 60 percent in value terms — in 2007, although that share is slowly declining, according to Freedonia. Demand for nonpolymeric materials, including ceramic, metal and composite types, is expected to record double-digit growth through 2012, due to their better performance in extreme temperatures and greater pH ranges, as well as their generally low maintenance costs.

Microfiltration membranes will continue to account for the largest share of total demand, but gains are projected to be stronger for ultrafiltration and reverse-osmosis membranes, both of which function in a variety of markets at a higher purity level. Among major applications, gains are expected to be strongest for pervaporation membranes, albeit from a small base, because of their use in high-growth specialty markets, such as chemical and industrial gas processing, as well as fluid treatment in wastewater and medical and pharmaceutical markets.

According to Freedonia, the best opportunities for growth will emerge in the pharmaceutical and medical markets and smaller markets, such as environmental applications and fuel cells. Although fuel cells are currently negligible in market value terms, they are expected to emerge as a significant outlet for membranes in the next 10 to 20 years. The water and wastewater treatment market continued to be the largest for membranes in 2007, representing 51 percent of sales during the year. Growth in this market will be primarily driven by the implementation of environmental regulations that increasingly require membrane separation technologies to achieve the mandated results, as well as the increasing acceptance of membrane technology in water and wastewater treatment.