Water3-in-1 water monitoring system

Published 21 June 2012

All water treatment plants using membrane technology are required to be able to perform three processes to comply with international standards: identify whether there are any bacteria or contaminants; detect any broken membrane filters in the treatment plant; and pinpoint which filter is broken — accurate to 1 in 100,000 filters; a new, innovative device performs all three processes

Water companies will be able to cut down two-thirds of their water monitoring operation costs with the latest water sensing technologies developed at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

What the company describes as the world’s first three-in-one water quality monitoring system was built and commercialized by NTU’s spin-off company, Membrane Instruments and Technology (MINT).

An average water treatment plant can potentially save up to $200,000 each year, the company says.

MINT’s new system is able to monitor water quality in the water treatment process and identify whether there are any bacteria or contaminants; detect any broken membrane filters in the treatment plant; and pinpoint which filter is broken — accurate to 1 in 100,000 filters.

All water treatment plants using membrane technology are required to be able to perform the three processes to comply with international standards, such as those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These processes are now being done separately, using different methods. The new device, called Memshield, performs all three processes.

Founder and general manager of MINT, Dr, Adrian Yeo, an NTU graduate, said this is where automated technology can play a part to increase productivity and reduce cost at the same time. The accurate, real-time data feed and analysis provided by the system will also give water plant managers important insight into their water supplies.

“The conventional methods of water monitoring, and to detect and pinpoint faulty membrane filters, requires manpower in three separate processes, which is both labour and cost intensive,” said Yeo. “Having a fully integrated and automated system that requires only one technician to operate will reduce manpower costs significantly. Also current technology is unable to pinpoint which membrane filter has failed which means time is spent on troubleshooting. This new technology by MINT will reduce the time spent on troubleshooting and any unscheduled downtime across the plant facility.”

“By replacing a defective membrane filter in time, the plant operator can avoid damaging downstream water treatment processes. It would also mean that individual failed filters can now be replaced as and when it is required, compared to the conventional standard procedure of replacing multiple filters at regular intervals,” Yeo added.

The technology is funded by the Environment & Water Industry Program Office’s  (EWI) Tech Pioneer Scheme, and supported by the Singapore National Research Foundation under its Environmental & Water Technologies Strategic Research Program.

EWI was set up in 2006 to spearhead the growth of Singapore’s water industry. Through funding promising research projects, the EWI aims to foster cutting-edge technologies and create a vibrant research community in Singapore.

“The Membrane Integrity Sensor, a key component of the Memshield system, has the potential to provide effective monitoring of low pressure membrane systems without increasing cost of operation for water treatment plants. We welcome individuals and organizations to step forward with more of such exciting R&D ideas that will benefit Singapore’s water eco-system and potentially the global water industry,” said Harry Seah, CTO, PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, and director of Technology Development, EWI.

Two large water companies in France and Australia have also recently purchased the system for trial.

A typical water treatment plant which processes 200,000 cubic meters of water daily will require about ten to twelve Memshield units, with each costing approximately $10,000.

With the new sales, MINT is expected to make $1 million in revenue this year. The young company, founded in 2009 with water sensor technologies developed at NTU’s Singapore Membrane Technology Center, is presently valued at $4 million, double its value from last year.

MINT has also recently received a new injection of funds by venture capitalist Nanostart Asia Pacific, after it successfully completed its Series A funding, typically ranging from $500,000 to $5 million in Singapore.

Apart from ramping up commercialization of water technologies, Yeo is also interested in grooming future environmental engineers and entrepreneurs — much like how he was mentored at NTU by his professors, he says.

He has since taken in ten NTU undergraduate students as interns over the past two years, and their work have also contributed to the research and development of the Memshield system.

“By allowing them hands-on experience in cutting edge technology in demand by the industry, I hope that they will be inspired to continue innovating and to develop out-of-the-box products to further improve human living environments, both for the rural villages and the increasing urbanized cities,” Yeo said.