Friday, September 18th, 2009
A low-cost desalination technology, developed by University of Queensland researchers through Queensland company Ceramipore Pty Ltd, has received $70,400 in federal funding.

Ceramipore, established by The University of Queensland’s commercialisation company, UniQuest, is one of 52 companies nationally to share $3.6 million in this round of Commercialising Emerging Technologies (COMET) funding to help commercialise Australian innovations.

Inventors of the Ceramipore technology have developed a membrane which can be used in an alternative desalination method known as Membrane Distillation (MD). Ceramipore uses a new silica-based inorganic membrane distillation process to reduce the cost of producing clean water from wastewater or seawater.

MD is an alternative desalination process where saline feed water is heated to enhance vapour production and then exposed to a ceramic membrane that only permits the water vapour to pass, leaving behind any salt. The vapour is then condensed on the other side of the membrane and collected as fresh water.

Ceramic membranes are a relatively new technology. The key feature of this technology is the consistently small size of the membrane pores (less than a nanometre), which allow water molecules to filter through but rejects larger molecules like salt.

Originally intended for gas separation, their potential as a desalination membrane was the result of an investigative student project. The current research group, led by Associate Professor Joe da Costa, from UQ’s School of Engineering and the ARC Centre for Excellence in Functional Nanomaterials, is now working with Ceramipore to develop the technology’s commercial potential.

Ceramipore Director, Dr Simon Cashion, said the technology is expected to offer significant cost-savings.

“The Ceramipore system operates at an order of magnitude lower in pressure than traditional techniques, which reduces energy intensive pumping costs. The process uses less electrical energy than existing methods and can be powered by low-cost energy sources such as waste heat or solar,” Dr Cashion said.

“The inorganic ceramic-based membranes are more robust than alternative polymer-based membranes, and appear to have characteristics that offer benefits distinct from other materials, which could prove advantageous in certain applications,” he said.

“The membrane is more wear-and-tear resistant and can be ‘reconditioned’ under a heat treatment to burn off any foreign matter. It is resistant to harsh water treatment chemicals such as chlorine, which would usually break down a polymer membrane,” Dr Cashion said.

UniQuest established Ceramipore to attract and secure the kind of investment needed to accelerate the development of this innovative technology.

UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson, said it is an ongoing challenge to find financial support and secure industry partners.

“Early stage research companies need investment to accelerate development and enable them to prove the potential of their technologies,” Mr Henderson said.

“This investment from COMET reflects confidence in the outcomes of UQ research and UniQuest’s ability to identify technologies which have significant commercial potential and benefit for both industry and the environment,” he said.

While this grant money will be used primarily for market research and business development activities, including the development of a prototype. UniQuest will continue to provide assistance with identifying further market and investment opportunities. In the meantime, the research team will continue to build expertise in membrane technology for demonstrating the potential of this technology through commissioning and operation of pilot desalination plants.

Contact Profile

UniQuest Pty Limited

Established by The University of Queensland in 1984, UniQuest is widely recognised as one of Australia’s largest and most successful university commercialisation groups, benchmarking in the top tier of technology transfer worldwide. From an intellectual property portfolio of 1,500+ patents it has created over 60 companies, and since 2000 UniQuest and its start-ups have raised more than $400 million to take university technologies to market. Annual sales of products using UQ technology and licensed by UniQuest are running at $3 billion. UniQuest now commercialises innovations developed at The University of Queensland and its commercialisation partner institutions: the University of Wollongong, University of Technology Sydney, James Cook University, University of Tasmania, Mater Medical Research Institute, and Queensland Health. UniQuest also provides access to an expansive and exclusive network of independent academics to tailor a consulting or project R&D solution to meet the diverse needs of industry and government, facilitating some 500 consulting, expert opinion, testing, and contract research services each year.

UniQuest is also a leading Australasian provider of international development assistance recognised for excellence in technical leadership, management and research. Working with agencies such as AusAID, NZAID, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, UniQuest has developed and implemented more than 400 projects in 46 countries throughout the Pacific, South-East Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Africa.

Leanne Wyvill
P: +61 7 3365 4037
M: +61 0 409767199


A new silica-based inorganic membrane distillation process to reduce the cost of producing clean water from wastewater or seawater has won a COMET grant.



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