Although membrane technology is becoming more prevalent—there are currently 1,600 membrane plants in the United States—it is still a niche market. Its small size sometimes makes it difficult for membrane specialists to meet others in the industry, even at water-specific events, said Harold Fravel, the executive director of the American Membrane Technology Association (AMTA).
“There a lot of these big water conferences where you can go and meet people with a whole wide range of interests, but typically there are only a few people who work in membranes at each one,” said Fravel.
AMTA, along with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) have teamed up to offer an alternative, presenting their third “Membrane Technology Conference & Exposition,” held March 10-14 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The conference is jam packed with valuable educational opportunities— 115 technical presentations, 60 poster presentations, five pre-conference workshops, and an exhibit hall with membrane products and services. But for many who attend, the biggest draw is the networking, explained Fravel.
“There are a lot of opportunities to sit down and meet someone and talk about what they do within membranes and who they are,” he said. “The nice thing about this conference is everyone who is here is interested in membranes.”
While networking has always been a critical part of the conference, organizers increased opportunities to make connections at this year’s event.
One such opportunity is the “Experts in the Round,” event held March 11. Participants can join small discussions on a variety of topics at one of 15 tables, each manned by an expert on that topic. The expert will facilitate a discussion at their table for 15 minutes at which point participants will move to another table.
“The attendees are all knowledgeable in different avenues of membrane treatment and this will give them a chance to learn from each other,” said Fravel. “This is a perfect opportunity for people to ask questions.”
The conference is frequented by manufactures, engineers, operators, utility managers, and others looking for the latest membrane technology. Over 100 exhibitors will be present at the conference including suppliers of membranes, chemical suppliers, software suppliers, membrane pump suppliers, and engineering firms that design and build plants for membranes.
The technical presentations are centered on one of four “talk tracks” which include the membrane filtration application track, the brackish water and seawater track, the wastewater and industrial track, and the regional issues and new innovations track.
Innovation is something the membrane industry knows well, said Fravel. At this year’s conference, up and coming technologies such as nanocomposite membranes, forward osmosis, and ceramic membranes will be highlighted.
The conference, and the industry are growing, said Fravel. He expects around 1,200 attendees this year up from 1,000 in 2013. “It wouldn’t surprise me if this conference is twice this size in five years,” Fravel said
While the future of membrane technology is a large focus at the event, the past will not be forgotten. This year’s event features keynote speakers Dr. Dave Furukawa and Dr. Jim Birkett, who combined have over 90 years of experience in the membrane industry.
“These two men are really pioneers in this industry, we started in the 60s,” said Fravel. “A lot of the original people of membrane technology are retiring and so we are really trying to preserve how all of this got started. It is important to remember where we came from as we move forward.”
Image credit: "Green-Membrane Bio Reactor," © 2011 LG, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/