Global demand for membranes is projected to increase 8.6 percent annually to over $15 billion in 2012, according to a study by the Freedonia Group ( Increased attention paid to water quality, the disposal of industrial and other waste streams, and food and beverage safety regulations is expected to propel membrane sales. Interest in water re-use and material reclamation due to the rising price of raw water and other inputs, and concerns about the environment, particularly water scarcity in many parts of the world, are also expected to drive membrane demand.

While growth in membrane sales is expected to be strong in nearly every region, the underlying reasons for that growth can vary widely, according to Freedonia. North America, the largest regional market, accounted for one-third of global membrane sales in 2007 and will advance at 8.3 percent annually through 2012. Gains in the U.S. market are projected to be aided by upgrades of water treatment techniques to accommodate newer water quality regulations and the use of low-quality water resources in the water-stressed regions.

The United States is expected to account for a larger share of global growth than China through 2012, according to Freedonia. In developing countries, gains will be driven by continued growth in water-intensive industries, increased need to tap brackish or otherwise poor quality water resources, and rising investment in modernizing water and waste infrastructure. However, in many of the least developed countries — especially in Africa and parts of South Asia — growth will be more limited due to lack of adequate funding and local corruption that impedes progress. Much of the Middle East has invested heavily in seawater and brackish water treatment to ensure a sufficient supply of water for drinking, agricultural and industrial purposes.

Mature membrane markets in Western Europe and Japan figure to show slower growth going forward. Still, Freedonia says increased emphasis on conservation through water recycling will boost sales in mature markets as well, as the relative affluence of these countries allows use of advanced technologies despite their high upfront costs.