Seize the Opportunity, Empower the Membrane Industry with Innovation —Interview with Zheng Genjiang, Chairman of Membrane Industry Association of China
Click:4    DateTime:Sep.09,2022

By Wei Kun, CNCIC

With the continuous advancement of technology, China's membrane industry has become a supporting industry for the development of many other industries. In recent years, membrane industry has played an irreplaceable role in solving the problem of water shortage, air and water pollution, developing new energy industry, and improving the utilization rate of energy and resources. Recently, Zheng Genjiang, chairman of Membrane Industry Association of China, accepted an interview with China Chemical News on hot topics such as how to develop China's membrane industry, the opportunities and challenges it encounters.

Grasp the critical period of development and seize opportunities in three aspects

【CCN】During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), what were the new characteristics of China's membrane industry during its development?

【Zheng Genjiang】The 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020) was a period of rapid development for China's membrane industry. There were many highlights, mainly in the following aspects.

Firstly, the ability of scientific and technological innovation has been significantly enhanced. By the end of 2020, there were nearly 100 colleges and universities and scientific research institutions engaged in membrane technology research across the country, and more than 60 national or provincial innovation platforms had been established. The research field covered almost all membrane specialties. Through the implementation of the scientific and technological plan, a number of high-level scientific and technological achievements with independent intellectual property rights have been produced, and some of technologies have reached the international advanced level. The overall scientific and technological level have stepped a higher stage, and a membrane technology innovation system with Chinese characteristics has basically been formed.

Secondly, the output value of the membrane industry has experienced a rapid growth. In 2020, the total output value of China's membrane industry reached RMB310 billion, twice as large as the value at the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015), and continued to maintain an annual growth rate of about 15%. The industrialization level had also been significantly improved, and the localization rate had reached over 65%. Products such as ultrafiltration membranes and household reverse osmosis membranes have basically achieved localized production.

Thirdly, the application fields have been expanded continuously. At present, China have become one of the largest membrane markets in the world. Membrane products have been widely used in seawater and bitter-salty water desalting, industrial water purification, sewage regeneration and reuse, new energy, medical and pharmacy, separation, concentration, purification and other industrial processes of materials.

【CCN】Currently, in the development of China's membrane industry, what new opportunities will we face? Which industry developments will drive the growth in demand for membranes?

【Zheng Genjiang】At present, the development of China's membrane industry is in a critical period, both with opportunities and challenges. However, opportunities outweigh the challenges in general, which mainly reflects in the following aspects.

Firstly, China government attaches great importance to water security, which brings huge market demand to the development of the membrane industry. On the one hand, water shortage is a bottleneck for China's sustainable development in the next few decades, and one of the important ways to solve this bottleneck is open source and utilization. Open source is to desalt the seawater and bitter-salty water. As a water resource increment technology, seawater and bitter-salty water desalting will surely become one of the important means to solve resource water shortage in economically developed coastal areas. Utilization is to regenerate and reuse the industrial wastewater and municipal wastewater. According to the data in 2019, China had 75 billion tons of urban sewage and 25.9 billion tons of rural sewage, and the total amount of sewage that could be recycled reached about 100 billion tons. In addition, there were about 20 billion tons of industrial wastewater that could be recycled. Therefore, China government has attached great importance to the recycling of industrial wastewater and municipal wastewater, and the requirements for the recycling rate of industrial wastewater and municipal wastewater will become higher and higher. As one of the mainstream technologies for wastewater recycling, membrane technology has a lot of development potentials.

On the other hand, with the continuous improvement of people's living standards, the requirements for drinking water quality are getting higher and higher. Obtaining better quality drinking water through advanced treatment of tap water has gradually become an urgent problem to be solved. The application of membrane technology in this field also has a broad prospect.

Secondly, the rapid development of China's strategic emerging industries has brought a huge emerging market to the membrane industry. The functional film material is one of the important varieties of new materials, and it is also an important part of the national strategic emerging industry. At the same time, it is the support for the common technology and industrial development of many strategic emerging industries. At present, membrane technology has become a key technology in industries such as new energy power batteries, artificial organs, biopharmaceuticals, semiconductors, optoelectronics, optics, etc. Therefore, membrane industry will face broad application space, along with the rapid development of strategic emerging industries.

Thirdly, the transformation and upgrading of traditional industries have created new development opportunities for membrane industry. At present, China is in a critical period of industrial transformation and upgrading that means the industry will change from low value-added to high value-added, from high energy consumption and high pollution to low energy consumption and low pollution, and from extensive to intensive. As an advanced separation technology, membrane technology can be widely used in traditional industries such as petroleum, chemical industry, food, medicine, metallurgy, electric power, etc. Membrane technology has unique advantages in precise separation, concentration, purification and refined production of materials, which can completely replace or partially replace the traditional separation process, achieve low energy consumption, low pollution, high added value, and help industrial transformation and upgrading.

【CCN】Generally speaking, the development of various sectors of China's membrane industry chain is unbalanced. What aspects should we concentrate on to promote the high-quality development of membrane industry?

【Zheng Genjiang】The membrane industry chain mainly includes membrane and raw materials, membrane and membrane components, membrane equipment and engineering, membrane-specific supporting equipment, and membrane operation and maintenance. Due to various reasons, the development is unbalanced in different sectors. The main problem is that the proportion of membrane and membrane materials at the top of the industrial chain is relatively small, accounting for only about 15% of the output value of the membrane industry, far lower than the proportion of developed countries, which restricts the high-quality development of China's membrane industry. Therefore, efforts should be made to reverse this situation.

The first is to strengthen innovation and make key breakthroughs. It is important to strengthen the research on membranes and membrane materials, increase the key technologies for the industrialization of membranes and membrane materials, take the lead in making breakthroughs in a number of key technical fields, seize the commanding point, and in those ways to achieve leapfrog development and leading position, and support the high-quality development of China's membrane industry.

The second is to lead high-end development, strengthen advantageous industries and minimize the weak industries. Great efforts should be made to vigorously cultivate high-end products, optimize and upgrade stock products, and resolve overcapacity of low-end and mid-end products.

The third is to give full play to the leading role of the market. It is necessary to strengthen functional planning, optimize industrial structure and layout, and promote the concentrated development of industries.

The fourth is to increase various support. Establish a number of membrane industry demonstration parks, cultivate a number of leading enterprises and benchmark enterprises, and lead the high-quality development of China's membrane industry.

The fifth is to strengthen the construction of industrial supporting system. Strengthen the construction of standard system, quality inspection system, industry evaluation system and investment and financing system, improve the development environment of the membrane industry, and promote the formation of the ecosystem of membrane industry.

Overcome difficulties and break through technical barriers

【CCN】What is the application prospect of membrane separation technology in the chemical industry?

【Zheng Genjiang】Membrane separation technology is one of the most advanced chemical separation technologies in the world. With the characteristics of low energy consumption, no secondary pollution, simple operation and high separation efficiency, it can be widely used in chemical production, such as high-performance membrane technology for precise separation of materials, special separation membrane technology for the production of ceramic membrane in extreme working conditions such as high temperature, high pressure and high pollution, bipolar membrane technology for acid-base preparation and recovery, gas separation membrane technology for chemical gas separation, enrichment, purification and carbon neutralization. The application of these technologies has a very promising prospect in the chemical industry.

【CCN】The vigorous development of new energy vehicles has driven the industrial development of power battery membranes and fuel cell membranes. Can domestic products meet the market demand? What key technologies need to be broken through?

【Zheng GenjiangBasically, new energy membranes are one of the core components of new energy power batteries. Relatively speaking, the development of lithium battery separators and photovoltaic backplane membranes precedes hydrogen fuel cell proton exchange membranes, and the application of the former has reached a considerable scale. In 2019, China's domestic diaphragm production reached 2.74 billion square meters, and the production in 2020 exceeded 3 billion square meters. In 2019, the amount of photovoltaic backplane membrane in China reached 196 million square meters, while the hydrogen fuel cell proton exchange membrane has been researched since the 9th Five-Year Plan period (1996-2000), and has entered the application stage since 2010. Under the promotion of the China government, its industrialization has developed rapidly. However, there are still many technologies that need to be broken through or improved, such as the base membrane material technology of lithium battery separators, the preparation technology of proton exchange membranes for hydrogen fuel cells and related technologies in the hydrogen fuel cell industry chain, and the production technology of fluorine-containing laminating type backplane membranes, etc.

Increase innovation and enhance international right of speech

【CCN】The development of the membrane industry is inseparable from technological innovation. What research areas should China's membrane industry focus on in the future? How to effectively combine technological innovation and industrialization?

【Zheng Genjiang】The continuous innovation of membrane technology is the key to the rapid and high-quality development of the membrane industry. In the future, the development direction of China's membrane technology should closely focus on the needs of the national development strategy, aim at the international frontier, and combine with the practical development of China's membrane technology, devote to develop original and leading technologies and high-end products.

At present, the research focuses on the following aspects: The first is special separation membranes for precise separation, concentration and purification. The second is high-performance separation membranes for applications under extreme conditions such as high temperature, high pressure and high pollution. The third is modification research of organic membrane materials, optimizing and improving the performance of organic membranes. The fourth is special functional membranes for non-water treatment of new energy, electronics, medical medicine, optics, etc. At the same time, great efforts should be made to establish a system for the transformation of scientific and technological achievements in coordination with scientific and technological innovation, industrial cultivation and industrial support, promote close cooperation among enterprises, universities and research institutes, improve the achievements transformation environment, and increase the transformation efficiency and the industrialization level.

【CCN】At present, the international membrane product market is developing rapidly. How should Chinese membrane products improve their international competitiveness and enhance their right of speech in the domestic market?

【Zheng Genjiang】In the foreign markets, the progress and application of membrane technology develop rapidly and their current research directions are mostly focused on the development of new functional membranes and membrane materials, as well as the modification of membrane materials.

      Based on the analysis of the current situation of membrane technology and industrial development in China, to improve international competitiveness, it is important to keep pace with the international frontier, strengthen the original innovation of membrane and membrane material technology, develop advanced membrane technology, especially the leading technology and high-end membrane products, optimize industrial structure, and improve industrialization and its international competitiveness. At the same time, it is necessary to enhance international exchanges and cooperation, explore the international market, integrate Chinese membrane products into the global membrane supply chain as soon as possible, increase the international market share, and enhance the right of speech in the market.