Henkel works with Aqua Membranes to improve efficiency of spiral-wound elements for RO water filtration

The automated system prints the feed spacer directly on to the flat sheet web. In this image, three 1812 patterns are printed side by side.

Henkel and Aqua Membranes have jointly introduced a Printed Spacer Technology for spiral-wound element design and manufacturing. The new technology is said to eliminate the need for conventional plastic mesh feed spacers by printing spacer patterns directly onto delicate flat sheet membrane materials. These patterns have the potential to reduce fouling and scaling in the element, and offer a more open water flow channel, which reduces energy consumption during the water filtration process.

Dan Oberle, global business development manager at Henkel, explained: “Our new resin and process technology, coupled with Aqua Membranes’ print patterns, enable spiral would element producers to print directly onto the membrane, as well as print a variety of patterns and print heights over the entire surface area of a membrane leaf.

“With more open patterns, water flows more freely, reducing wasted energy. Printed feed spacers will produce more clean water, faster and at a lower cost than conventional spacer technology.”

Conventional extruded plastic mesh spacers take up space between membrane leaves. Their closed structure creates a flow path that requires high pressure to move water through an element, which must be frequently cleaned due to fouling. By printing feed spacer patterns directly onto flat sheet membrane, element manufacturers will be able to reduce the thickness of each spacer, fitting more layers into the element.

This, both companies added, expands available surface area inside the membrane element by 20-40%, thereby increasing the total permeate flow. Alternatively, this new technology can radically reduce energy consumption by keeping larger gaps and more open flow channels, resulting in lower pressure drop.

Craig Beckman, CEO of Aqua Membranes, added: “Unlike traditional membrane spacers that trap particles and biofilm within the mesh and create high pressure drop, our 3D-printed spacers can optimise flow patterns and turbulence through the membrane element. This optimization leads to lower energy consumption, a reduced system footprint, improved cleaning, and potentially longer element life.”