Koch Membrane Systems (KMS), part of Koch Industries which is one of the largest private business in the US, offers membrane filtration solutions for water and waste water treatment. The technology could be a perfect fit for the Indian processing sector - a compact system that occupies very little space compared to conventional effluent treatment plants, a high rate of waste water recovery of over 95%, economical capital and operational costs, making it feasible for the industry to move towards zero liquid discharge.
In an exclusive interview with Textile Excellence, Dr Christoph Thiemig, Director Process Engineering Water & Wastewater EMEA & India, Koch Membrane Systems, Germany, and Jack Noble, General Manager, Koch Membrane Systems, UK, discuss the two important technologies for the textile industry - waste water treatment, and process separation technology.
Tell us more about KMS.
Koch Membrane Systems is part of Koch Chemicals Group. It is predominantly a pollution control type of business, started 50 years ago. The company is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts with subsidiary offices in Europe, China, India and Latin Amercia.
There is 50-50 split between water and waste water treatment and process separation businesses. Process separation includes caustic recovery, indigo dye recovery, PVA recovery in the textile sector, wine and beer filtration, milk and vegetable based protein filtration, gelatin concentration and more.
Textile accounts for 5-10% of the business. But the business is growing noticeably, particularly in India. So, while textile is not the biggest part of the business now, I expect it to become far more significant over the next decade.
What are the current technologies in water and waste water treatment used in the textile industry?
Ninety percent of the time biological treatment technology is used, which is 100 year-old technology, but still very good technology, used all over the world. But with drive towards reuse and towards zero liquid discharge (ZLD), it becomes insufficient to meet effluent standards. Membrane technology can offer far better solutions for both reuse and ZLD that are technically attainable and more economical.
The membrane option gives you far better quality of effluent you could ever achieve with use of standard technologies we see today.
And it is suitable for industries situated in cities, with little space for expansion. Upgrading conventional treatment plant to MBR technology increases the throughput of the existing facility, and the existing infrastructure by 2-3 times.
Quality improves dramatically with MBR. A process house from here can quite easily take the next step to ZLD. For ZLD and reuse we offer a very high rate of recovery RO solution from the typical 50-70% to 90-95% and higher.
What challenges do you face in the market?
The biggest challenge, globally is - I am going to do nothing at all, and pretend I am doing something. This is true in every market. I worked in Salem 25 years ago, when I was doing research for university, and I was looking at water treatment in the leather industry.
There was panic in this segment as the Indian government had just introduced new water legislation. And 25 years on, there is no great change that I see. Hopefully, legislation is more mature today and determination to enforce it is more active, so we will see a bigger change in a quicker time.
What is the kind of competition you face in the market?
There is competition from conventional, biological treatment technologies. Then of course, there are other suppliers of MBR technology, and the Chinese suppliers. However, I can confidently say that our membrane technology is not the cheapest, but the best.
So why would a company opt for KMS?
Because membrane technology is the technology to go for today, and is endorsed by leading players and the solutions offered by KMS are the most advanced in the market.
I was in Paris recently for the Global Water Summit, a premiere water event. For the first time ever, the event had a session on the textile industry. As you know, the Roadmap to Zero Discharge has attracted top retailers, brands and manufacturers. And in this session, membrane technology was the most talked about.
Commonly accepted membrane systems are the best technology for what you are trying to achieve. Where land is at a premium, and you want to achieve reuse and ZLD, then conventional is not an option. We recently retrofitted a system that was conventional with MBR system. We replaced everything from biological stage with a single set of membranes that are operating at a lower capital and operational cost, with better efficiency.
If ZLD and reuse are really going to be the norm then conventional technologies will simply not be an option.
You say your solutions are not the cheapest in the market, and India is a cost conscious market.
Conventional technology today works out to be more expensive over the life of the installation. If we look at operational expense, a conventional system with sand filtraiton and disinfection with UV consumes more kilowatt hour for cubic treated water than MBR. And the MBR achieves a better quality.
So it is not true anymore than membrane technology is more expensive than conventional. Moreover, cost for membrane production has come down so dramatically that the technology has become very competitive.
In India, processing is largely in the decentralised sector. Is that a target market for you?
Our systems are best suited for the decentralised sector, due to the compact design of the system. In fact, most of our clients are from small and medium sized units.
Tell us about the process separation technologies of KMS?
Waste treatment part of business is a necessary evil. We have solutions that can add value and recover cash for the textile sector. For instance, indigo recovery allows to take 100% spent indigo from the system in usable form.
It can be reused completely. Besides this, it reduces the effluent load and reduces costs there too. Caustic recovery is another solution we offer. Conventionally, the industry uses caustic clarification concentration process, where the caustic goes to the evaporator along with the impurities, and the quality of the recovered caustic is thus sub-optimal. KMS membranes remove the impurities, and sends out clean caustic back to the system to be reused as a high grade product. With our system, recovered caustic is of a higher quality than virgin caustic. And then there is PVA recovery. PVA has a bad effect on downstream effluent treatment if it is not effectively removed. And again, our unique membrane solution removes & concentrates PVA, that can be reused.
With all the interest in zero discharge, KMS must find a good market in all the textile producing countries?
India is a very important, focus market for KMS. The industry here is getting interested in zero discharge. A combination of internal Indian legislation and customer driven expectations is creating the growth in this market for us. Last year, we sold 5-6 waste water treatment plants in India. There is a lot of interest in process separation in caustic, PVA and indigo recovery.
India and China are the two biggest markets. Bangladesh is also showing great promise, as is Turkey. The focus is predominantly India and Bangladesh.
How has the Indian industry accepted KMS technology?
The response has been good. Most of our orders and enquiries are from Tirupur and Gujarat. Some plants in north India have shown an interest too.
India's textile membrane applications market is currently worth around US$ 100 million, and in the next 2-5 years, I expect it will triple & even quadruple.
In process separation however, most of our installations are not in India. The industry here wants to see what the technology is, how it operates, pricing, costs, etc. I expect to have the first installation in India soon, and then it will be an avalanche of orders.
The great thing about the Indian market is that you have an educated end user and educated engineers.
It is easier to sell MBR in India than in Turkey, or other European countries, where knowledge of water treatment isn't as well developed. India has a fabulous group of water engineers comparable to the best in the world.
What about Bangladesh?
The push for the Bangladesh industry to adopt these systems and technologies is more, as the pressure from brands is greater. Brands work very closely with factories in Bangladesh. Moreover, Bangladesh has always been a market that demands the latest technologies. So in the short term, Bangladesh is a bigger opportunity, but in the longer term, India is the place to be.
KMS Solutions For The Textile Industry
Mumbai-based S. A. Pharmachem Pvt Ltd, is the channel partner for KMS in India. S. A. Pharmachem works closely with the textile industry & has developed pilot as well as commercial plants for:
PVA Size Recovery
Indigo Dye Recovery
S. A. Pharmachem and their technical team are working with customers under KMS guidance to reuse the valuable chemicals in textile processing as well as reducing load on effluent. These systems will also help to meet the customers to achieve ZLD.
Practical experiences as below:
PVA Size Recovery
Advantages of PVA recovery systems
Concentrate PVA for reuse in sizing
Reduce COD/BOD in effluent
Permeate hot water return to washer
Reduce fresh water usages
Minimize plant effluent volumes
Reduction in effluent treatment costs
Indigo Dye Recovery
Advantages of Indigo dye recovery systems:
Reduce dye usage
Reduce effluent COD/BOD
Concentrate dye for reuse
Allows point of use treatment
Low operating costs
Long membrane life
Advantages of Caustic Purification:
>90% COD reduction
>90% water and heat savings
80-90% calcium reduction
80-90% carbonates reduction