In the production of filtration membranes, the bulk of the manufacturing processes used today still date back to the 1960s, but the impact of 3D printing is promising for this industry. A startup called Evove created an in-house 3D printing technology to improve the efficiency and throughput of filtration membranes. After its first successful commercial application of graphene-based membranes for the water sector and additively manufactured precision-engineered membranes, the UK-based company closed a £5.7 million ($6.9 million) funding round to accelerate growth and scale-up of the next generation of its products.
Led by At One Ventures, backers of disruptive deep tech companies, with participation from AM Ventures, a German VC firm dedicated to 3D printing startups, and two existing investors, the new funding round will enable the organization to expand manufacturing capacity, scale up its proprietary reactive binder printing process and capitalize on its pipeline of opportunities. Moving forward, the company will focus on key products and an established customer base in lithium extraction, food, beverage, desalination, ultrapure water, and water reuse.
Under the motto “filtering the unfilterable,” Evove is laser-focused on developing additive manufacturing (AM) solutions to help with filtration and separation problems. Its products range from improved membranes to precision-engineered membranes that can overcome the inherent flaws in conventional architectures. As a result, Evove says it can drive down energy consumption and save water by deploying its solutions to many applications.
Evove Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Andrew Walker told 3DPrint.com last week that most membrane manufacturers today continue to rely on decades-old methods to make a fundamental technology at the heart of almost everything we touch, including clothes, drinks, and car batteries. Basically, Walker says these 1960s processes that are still around today create porous structures that – if seen under an electron microscope – have a variety of pore sizes (as seen in the image below), which in itself makes it very difficult for precision filtration. According to Walker, these traditionally-made membranes have an active filtration efficiency of only 17%.
“AM changes the game significantly. The potential of the 1960s techniques has been exhausted, but 3D printing can make another quantum leap in the efficiencies of these existing mature industries, with orders of magnitude performance gains compared to those older manufacturing processes,” said Walker.
“It’s a revolutionary approach that delivers transformational performance,” adds Evove CEO Chris Wyres. He told us that the company began using computational fluid dynamics and some very light touch AI to accelerate the design process and optimize membranes. Then 3D printing enabled them to print very different architectures than conventional membrane manufacturing.
Evove’s journey began with a need to disrupt the industry. It started by applying graphene oxide coatings to existing membranes, which increased performance but didn’t solve deficiencies in the underlying substrate, which is an imprecise, outdated device. Wyres said it felt like they were applying a “band-aid” to membranes.
Even though the membranes are generally based around eight-inch diameter pipes, making them printable within the bounds of the possibility of existing AM machinery, Wyres says the objective was to make the membranes with optimized novel architectures using ceramics. And while that 3D printing technology wasn’t fully developed then, several print heads did exist. So the team got to work on an in-house technology that uses existing print heads, which are now employed to make the patented Separonics ceramic membranes.
Although ceramic membranes have been around for a few years, high costs have substantially cut off their potential. The shrinkage and fractures in the material make them brittle, and even though, in theory, they could last a long time, they tended to break, explains Walker. These hurdles have made ceramic membranes a difficult purchase, one that most companies have avoided. Evove has found a way to position the cost of ceramic membranes at the same level as polymeric ones.
“We developed a solution based on reactive binder jet technology that enables us to make ceramics at less than 60% of the cost today. This revolutionary reactive technique doesn’t need high-temperature sintering processes for long periods of time,” explains Wyres. “Lowering the cost of ceramic membranes has always been a challenge in this industry, but we know they last far longer than polymeric membranes. Ceramic membranes have always been the most desirable since they can withstand high temperatures, extreme acidity or alkalinity, and high operating pressures, making them suitable for many applications where polymeric membranes cannot be used.”
So Evove didn’t just bring the cost down of ceramic membranes, but it has done so by pioneering ceramics 3D printing. This winning combination has helped the company create novel membrane designs which transform performance and can help reduce energy consumption. Moreover, this development attracted investors like AM Ventures, ready to drive forward its scaling potential, suggests Wyres.
With its 3D printing technology on site and funds to support its expansion, Evove can now focus on its priority: helping emerging markets transition to a new energy economy. The business is looking primarily at the lithium sector and green hydrogen production, which is being used to power vehicles. For example, Evove’s membrane technologies can help get more sustainable lithium from unconventional sources like geothermal and desalination brines. The company claims it can do this with a far more efficient process, a smaller footprint, and lower energy and end-to-end production costs.
“Evove typically costs half what any other competitive technology company can offer,” claims Wyres.
As for green hydrogen, making its electrolytic production more efficient is also a goal. Walker says Evove is leveraging its technologies in green hydrogen production where ultrapure water is a prerequisite.
“If you don’t have ultrapure water, the electric catalyzers that generate the hydrogen are destroyed very quickly,” indicates Walker. “However, roughly 15 to 20 liters of tap water are currently used to produce one liter of ultrapure water, which is horrifically inefficient. Using water at those rates is a big issue for green hydrogen because to replace hydrocarbon fuels or even compete with lithium, companies will be potentially competing with the drinking water available and then some to fuel vehicles. So we need a more efficient way of doing this, and it will require a far more efficient membrane, which at the end of the day, 3D printing will allow us to deliver.”
Aside from lithium and green hydrogen, Evove is also helping customers in established industries transition from a very high carbon footprint to a more efficient model, such as the desalination industry, food and beverage and any industries which generate wastewater.
With support from its new investors, Evove wants to expand its service and support network, enabling end-users to solve some of the world’s biggest water and energy challenges. The backers are excited to see what this company can bring to the forefront of precision-engineered filtration membranes and how it will significantly disrupt the status quo in their markets.
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