Aquaporins: Purifying Water with Nature’s Own Filter
While many human activities affect the environment in negative ways, nature’s solutions often are more efficient and sustainable. How do plants and animals purify water? What can we learn from them about filtration? With these questions in mind, Supertrends talked to two executives from Aquaporin, a water tech company delivering innovative technology based on nature’s own water filter.
Aquaporins: the truly natural water filters
The cells in Aquaporins are channel proteins that facilitate the transport of water across cells. Through aquaporins, cells in plants, animals, and humans can filter pure water from other molecules very quickly and efficiently. The discovery of aquaporins in 1992 won Dr. Peter Agre a Nobel Prize in 2003 and laid the groundwork for practical applications in a number of industries.
Inspired by nature’s own water filtration method, Danish company Aquaporin developed the Aquaporin Inside® technology, a biomimetic membrane that serves as a natural, sustainable water treatment solution. The company offers innovative products such as a water filtration system that does not need electricity, a natural concentration process that can achieve high concentration levels without loss of natural flavor in food and beverages; and a sustainable and efficient wastewater treatment process involving lower energy consumption and less wastewater discharge.
Water treatment goals in the textile industry
Accounting for 20 percent of global wastewater discharge, the textile industry is one of the largest polluters and consumers of water. To make matters worse, many textile factories are located in water-stressed regions, such as India and Bangladesh. “With Aquaporin’s technology, textile factories could reuse up to 95 percent of their wastewater and ultimately achieve zero liquid discharge,” said Søren Robenhagen, the sales director for industrial water at Aquaporin.
Have worked for quite a few years in a diplomatic position in South Asia and the Middle East, Robenhagen is no stranger to the environmental damages caused by industrial wastewater.
“India is a global manufacturing hub, with textile industry alone accounting for 12 percent of the country’s export earnings. Mass production comes with the challenges of water pollution, contributing to water scarcity, and increased regulations to manage it. Aquaporin technologies enable the industry to be greener, cleaner, and more water- and carbon-conscious.”
Søren Robenhagen, Sales Director, Industrial Water at Aquaporin & Supertrends Expert
Robenhagen told Supertrends that his ambition is to bring Aquaporin’s sustainable water tech to major textile exporters such as India and Turkey. “We are expecting our first commercial installation of wastewater treatment unit in India in the first half of 2022,” he said.
Consumers are part of the sustainability solution
Water is a costly resource in Europe. European companies usually can benefit from direct cost savings in reduced water consumption by adopting the sustainable water treatment solution developed by the company Aquaporin. However, in developing countries like Bangladesh, water is exacted from the ground almost free of charge. What are the incentives for textile factories there to spend on sustainable water treatment equipment?
Robenhagen believes that such incentives depend on the choices made by individual end users. “Consumers like you and me are demanding more sustainable products from fashion brands. Fashion brands will then work with the factories to make them greener by forming long-term partnerships.” Aquaporin has been chosen by Fashion for Good, a platform dedicated to sustainable fashion innovation, for a pilot project at textile factories in South Asia, where the technology will be presented as a blue stamping that features the Aquaporin Inside® technology.
The paradox of freshwater
Global warming causes increased drought in many places. In 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could face a fresh water shortage. More and more regions have to rely on the treatment of salty water for freshwater supply. However, brackish water (water that is saltier than freshwater, but not as salty as seawater) treatment and seawater desalination require vast amounts of energy, which are provided by fossil fuels in many places. Some experts have expressed their concerns about creating a feedback loop where seawater desalination worsens global warming, and in turn leads to a greater shortage of freshwater.
As a more energy-efficient and sustainable solution, an aquaporin-based membrane could help to save energy and increase efficiency in the treatment process for brackish water and seawater. The company Aquaporin is launching a reverse osmosis system with Aquaporin Inside® technology as a more energy-efficient method of treating brackish water. The company is also working actively with partners to develop aquaporin-based membranes that can improve energy efficiency in the seawater desalination process.
“Desalination uses a lot of energy. It is not only expensive, but could also have a high carbon footprint if the energy comes from fossil fuels. An aquaporin-based membrane that is highly efficient, but uses lower energy is very beneficial. It can translate into lower cost of operation and lower carbon footprint.”
Matt Boczkowski, deputy CEO of Aquaporin and Supertrends expert.
To have enough water for agriculture, industry, and daily life, we must achieve sustainable water management. Nature is the best teacher. Aquaporin – nature’s own water filter – could help us to ensure that our water supply continues to be sourced sustainably and using natural processes.
Find out more about innovative water tech from Supertrends’ free report – Sustainable Wastewater Management.