Global demand for membranes is projected to increase 9 percent annually to $19.3 billion in 2015, according to a report by Freedonia Group. The countries that will see the fastest growth include the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries and others with large, developing industrial bases and stressed local water resources. Combined, the United States and China are expected to account for 46 percent of the market gains between 2010 and 2015.

North America, which Freedonia says is the largest regional market, accounted for one-third of global membrane sales in 2010 and will advance a strong 8.3 percent annually through 2015. Gains in the U.S. market will be aided by the ongoing development of improved membranes and related systems to accommodate newer water quality regulations and the use of low-quality water in water-stressed regions.

Western Europe and Japan are similar to the United States in the maturity of their water infrastructures, the type of regulatory environment, and the level of technological sophistication in manufacturing, according to Freedonia Group. Freedonia predicts this maturity will contribute to growth in membrane demand well below the global average. Still, it says the increased emphasis on conservation through water recycling will boost sales.

In developing countries, Freedonia says gains will be based on the continued growth of 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. Freedonia says much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Caribbean have invested heavily in seawater and brackish water treatment to ensure a sufficient supply of water for drinking, agriculture, and industry use.

Water treatment, the largest market for membranes, will also benefit from expansions or upgrades of water treatment infrastructures and a projected rebound in manufacturing activity in key geographic markets. However, Freedonia predicts the best opportunities for growth will emerge in the pharmaceutical and medical market, as well as other smaller markets, such as chemical processing and environmental applications, as these industries continue to develop globally and create new uses for membranes.