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Pollution Prevention and Control Technologies for Plating Operations

Section 3 - Chemical Recovery


3.7.2 Development and Commercialization

Reverse osmosis is a relatively mature technology, having the distinction of being the first membrane-based separation technology to be widely commercialized (ref. 380). Much of the early developmental work for this technology took place in the late 1950ís and the 1960ís and focused on desalination for drinking water supplies. This work was sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Saline Water (ref. 380). The spiral-wound element, which is the building block of modern recovery units was developed in 1963 (ref. 380). The first large industrial application of RO occurred in 1970 when a 100,000 gpd system was placed into operation at Texas Instrumentsí (TI) electronic manufacturing facility in Dallas, TX. The application at TI was the purification of municipal water for use in manufacturing. Now, essentially all electronics plants in the U.S. use RO for this purpose (ref. 65). The first RO metal finishing application for chemical recovery that was identified in the literature occurred in 1974, which was applied to copper cyanide (ref. 382). Other applications during the 1970ís and 1980ís included: bright nickel, Watts nickel, acid copper, acid zinc, and end-of-pipe effluent polishing. In 1976 the USEPA sponsored a series of experiments to evaluate the application of RO to plating chemical recovery. These experiments evaluated the performance and life-spans of membranes that were commercially available at the time (ref. 382).

Metal finishing applications of RO are very limited in comparison to those of desalination and other industrial applications. Worldwide, there are approximately 1,500 RO desalinating plants with a total capacity of more than 750 million gallons per day. Estimated RO membrane sales were approximately $118 million in 1988. Of these sales, Osmonics, one of the largest U.S. manufacturerís of RO equipment for the plating industry, accounted for $3 million (ref. 380). Osmonicís sales figures include not only the metal finishing industry applications, but also a range of other industries, including: food, beverage, dairy, chemical processing, and textile manufacturing. There are approximately 20 companies that manufacture and/or sell RO and ultrafiltration equipment to the U.S. plating industry (ref. 421). Of these companies, five responded to the NCMS vendors survey, but only four provided data on the number of systems they have sold within the metal finishing industry. The total number of systems sold by these four companies is 15, with nine units applied to chemical recovery, five applied to reuse of wastewater and one applied to raw water treatment. These numbers significantly understate the total number of RO units in use in the metal finishing industry because two major manufacturers (Osmonics and Ionics) did not provide data.

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