The fine chemicals industry is responsible for the production of pigments, dyes, coatings, flavouring and fragrances, things that we use constantly in our everyday lives. Fine chemicals are produced in small quantities, but they have a wide range of purposes and uses, so are often difficult to define. The chemical industry as a whole represents the largest sector of the membranes market, with fine chemicals taking up around a quarter of this sector. Membrane technology is very important in the fine chemicals industry – it’s used for the production of process water, filtration of the fine chemicals themselves and treatment of effluent.
Process waters are an important part of the production process for fine chemicals. The types of process water used in the fine chemicals industry can vary considerably, mainly because there’s such a huge range of fine chemicals that can be produced. Process waters have a lot of different specifications that have to be followed for different fine chemicals, such as microbe content, silica levels and carbon levels. Membrane technology has an important role to play in producing these process waters – membranes are often used for pre-treatment, sometimes for processes like reverse osmosis.
Membrane technology is also used for direct filtration in the fine chemicals industry. The membranes can be used to separate the fine chemicals and ensure their purity. These chemicals are purified in medium-sized facilities, in which membranes remove contaminants from the fine chemical products, ready for use. Some facilities prefer the use of filters instead of membranes, as they are more suitable in certain situations.
The fine chemicals industry also carries out treatment of effluent. The production of fine chemicals often produces a lot of waste, which is then treated using membrane technology. This is probably the most extensive application of membrane technology in the whole industry. First, effluent is fed into a bioreactor tank where microbes can respire, producing organics. Conditions within the bioreactor are constantly monitored, and some of the waste is removed periodically to keep concentration levels at the optimum. Membranes are used to separate larger molecules from smaller particles, to produce effluent that is free from any bacteria or solids.
Membrane technology is important in the fine chemicals industry, for many different processes. It helps to produce process water which then dilutes agrochemicals, for filtration and separation of fine chemicals to purify them for use, and for the treatment of effluent to remove bacteria and solids from the waste products. Membrane technology is useful and diverse, and plays an important role in the production of fine chemicals.