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Tougher eco-standards stimulate surge in water treatment industry

Imminent water pollution regulation changes are driving rapid expansion in the mainland water industry, with many companies now obliged to upgrade their purification capabilities. Overall, though, a number of innovative technologies and new business models related to water cleansing systems are helping to soften the financial blow somewhat.

Photo: Water purification equipment from Guangzhou Chaoyu. (Chen Qiren)
Water purification equipment from Guangzhou Chaoyu.
Photo: Water purification equipment from Guangzhou Chaoyu. (Chen Qiren)
Water purification equipment from Guangzhou Chaoyu.

While business demand is growing rapidly, demand for domestic water filtration products is increasing more slowly. While it has been spurred stimulated by notorious water pollution incidents, but still lagging far behind consumer demand in more established markets.

The Water China 2015 event, held recently in Guangzhou, focussed on three major areas of water management – pollution control, water conservation and water usage. The event showcased new technologies, materials, processes, products and new solutions in water treatment, addressing a number of the increasingly pressing issues across the country.

A November 2014 report on water resources utilisation and pollution in China by Insight (51report.com), a Chinese mainland-based website, concluded that China is drought-prone and faces a possibly severe water shortage. Although its total volume of freshwater resources ranks fourth in the world, China is among the bottom 13 countries for per capita water resources, at 2,300 cubic metres a head, around 40% of the global average.

The severe water problems are, currently a cause for of considerable concern among many of the relevant officials, as result a Water Pollution Prevention Action Plan (or 10-point water plan) is expected to be launched in the very near future. Endorsed by the State Council, the action plan reflects the high level of government commitment to tackling the problem. According to projections, the plan will see up to Rmb2 trillion invested in water pollution controls.

According to many of the exhibitors at Water China, the mainland's water treatment industry represents a vast market and one that holds much promise, given the constant development of water treatment technologies in the global market. There is also increasing public awareness about clean and safe water, as well as favourable government policies.

Technology: The Way Forward

Photo: Sun East’s industrial usage water purifier. (Chen Qiren)
Sun East's industrial usage water purifier.
Photo: Sun East’s industrial usage water purifier. (Chen Qiren)
Sun East's industrial usage water purifier.

One exhibitor, Sun East Technology (Holdings), founded in Hong Kong in 1984, maintains it is committed to developing and applying ultrasonic technology to water treatment. At the Sun East booth, a two-metre-high metal water purifier attracted attention from many overseas visitors. Fan Lihua, Sun East's General Manage for its Environmental Protection Division, said water purification equipment for industrial use can be up to two metres in height. Based on a user's actual needs, the company can customise fixed volume water purification equipment for industrial enterprises.

The company has developed its own integrated water purification device – the ultrasonic Fenton sewage treatment system. According to Fan, it is best suited to purifying difficult-to-treat sewage wastewater, landfill leachates and squeezed liquids at garbage compression stations, ensuring that wastewater meets emission standards after treatment. Furthermore, the waste generated during the treatment process can also be pressed into fuel for power generation.

Sun East's water purification products are sold to countries and regions such as the US and Taiwan, with applications in the pharmaceutical and waste treatment industries in China.

Prominently displayed over at the Sumiden Asia (Shenzhen) booth was a membrane water purification device. It works by continually injecting purified water from a 'dirty' half to a clean half of a water tank – one in which, for demonstration purposes, five goldfish were swimming happily, a sign of the water's purity.

Photo: Membrane water purification in action. (Chen Qiren)
Membrane water purification in action.
Photo: Membrane water purification in action. (Chen Qiren)
Membrane water purification in action.
Photo: Sewage rendered goldfish-friendly by Sumiden Asia. (Chen Qiren)
Sewage rendered goldfish-friendly by Sumiden Asia.
Photo: Sewage rendered goldfish-friendly by Sumiden Asia. (Chen Qiren)
Sewage rendered goldfish-friendly by Sumiden Asia.

Sumiden Asia is a wholly-owned sales company established by Japan's Sumitomo Electric Industries in China in 2008. The company is mainly engaged in the development and production of membranes and of a new wastewater treatment system that integrates membrane separation technology and biological treatment technology with a Membrane Bio-Reactor (MBR).

Li Jian, Sumiden Asia's Sales Chief, said the potential market for MBR water treatment systems is vast. Currently, 95% of manufacturers produce membranes made of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF). Very few can make polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membranes, which is the main R&D business for its parent company, Sumitomo Electric. The PTFE membrane is said to have many advantages over PVDF, including acid and alkali resistance, making it is less easily damaged during cleaning.

Li Jian said that PTFE membrane water treatment equipment presently has applications in many fields. Current clients include Wuhan Steel, Taishan Steel and Baosteel, for use in water treatment for cold-rolled steel manufacture.

Competing in Technology and Services in the Household Market

Speaking at a technology interflow seminar, mainland water expert Gu Jiuchuan proposed that water purification products should be directed towards smart technology, information technology, home uses and standardisation. Product development should focus on the user experience in order to achieve convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and home appliances, thus making products better suited to home use.

Photo: Water Pro water purification equipment on show. (Chen Qiren)
Water Pro water purification equipment on show.
Photo: Water Pro water purification equipment on show. (Chen Qiren)
Water Pro water purification equipment on show.
Photo: Three-filter water purification equipment. (Chen Qiren)
Three-filter water purification equipment.
Photo: Three-filter water purification equipment. (Chen Qiren)
Three-filter water purification equipment.

Various kinds of household water purification equipment, ranging from filters, through to design and user experience, were all on show at this year's event. The household water purification equipment manufactured by Hong Kong Water Pro Water Treatment Technology featured multicoloured designs and was comprised of three filters for better water purification. Zhang Boju, an Executive at the company, said that if a user's home water pressure is not powerful enough, the product offers a booster function, which would suit residents of apartments on higher floors.

Shanghai Ozner Environment & Science Co booth was attracting crowds of potential buyers. Operations Centre Business Manager, Zhang Yuanhui, said: "We are not selling water purifiers, we sell a service." Unlike most manufacturers of water purification products, Shanghai Ozner has adopted a fee-paying model that provides customers with one year's water purification services, filter replacements and repairs for an annual cost of about Rmb3,000, with zero installation expense.

By using cloud technology and connectivity to the office, the filter condition can be displayed on the water purification equipment. In case the machine is broken, or the filter fails, an alert is automatically sent to the back-office system, which monitors the state of the device continually.

Zhang said its customers include leading retailers, Suning and Walmart. Walmart is said to have initially ordered more than 1,700 water purification machines and has so far purchased more than 2,000 units in a second round. Suning has also reportedly installed 10,000 units in its stores around China.

Promising Market

A report on China's water industry, released by the Shanghai Business News website, projected investment in industrial wastewater treatment reaching Rmb21.3 billion in 2015. Investment for upgrading and transforming urban sewage treatment will be around Rmb56 billion between 2015 and 2020.

With the positive impacts of the 10-point water plan and other policies starting to be felt, many exhibitors are optimistic about the future of the water treatment industry in China. Zhang Hao, General Manager of Singapore's TriTech Group's Membrane Division, said the 10-point water plan was helping to propel the growth of environmental protection companies by imposing more stringent requirements on water use.

The quality standards for industrial water ready for discharge has been raised from the previous level 1B to the current level 1A. As a result, the tougher emissions requirements are creating a big opportunity for suppliers in the water treatment industry.

Photo: Sumiden Asia’s well-attended stand. (Chen Qiren)
Sumiden Asia's well-attended stand.
Photo: Sumiden Asia’s well-attended stand. (Chen Qiren)
Sumiden Asia's well-attended stand.
Photo: Shanghai Ozner’s water purification system. (Chen Qiren)
Shanghai Ozner's water purification system.
Photo: Shanghai Ozner’s water purification system. (Chen Qiren)
Shanghai Ozner's water purification system.

Sumiden Asia's Li said the company's output value was around Rmb20 million last year. In terms of industrial water purification, the MBR water treatment systems market is large, while PTFE manufacturers are scarce. His company has immense confidence in the PTFE membrane technology. He said: "PTFE membrane water treatment technology is set to revolutionise the membrane water purification industry."

As for household water purification equipment, a market of more than 1.3 billion people is emerging. In recent years, demand for household water and water purification products has been on the rise, while family water appliances are becoming essential equipment in certain households.

Water Pro Water Treatment Technology, based in Zhongshan City, targets products at the middle-income group. Company Executive, Zhang Boju, said recent years' sales figures showed a substantial growth year-on-year. The market still has much room for growth as consumers' attitudes towards water are still changing.

TriTech's Zhang noted that recent water pollution incidents in the mainland cities of Lanzhou, Wuhan and Harbin have raised public awareness about clean and safe water. Currently, household water purification products account for less than 4% of the mainland water purification market, compared with 85% for developed countries. This means that the mainland's commercial and home water purification products market has immense potential.

Water China (Guangzhou) 2015 was held in the Poly World Trade Centre Expo (Pazhou) on 9-11 March. More than 200 water companies from more than 30 countries and regions including the US, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong displayed their latest offerings at the show.

Qi Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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