Developed nations take clean drinking water at the twist of a tap for granted, but in many areas of the world, potable water is scarce or non-existent. The critical demand for clean water -- exacerbated by population expansion, environmental pollution and deforestation, among other factors -- is driving a new industry that is expected to spend more than $95 billion in capital outlays through 2015. To support this industry and help people around the world obtain a basic necessity, GE Advanced Materials has invested in a new Fluid Engineering Center of Excellence in Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands. The center’s scientists and technologists will conduct research, develop and test new materials solutions that can improve the provision of water resources around the world.
GE’s new Fluid Engineering Center will centralize and use for its research the combined knowledge available within GE regarding the use of engineering plastics in fluid engineering applications. Using this knowledge, a team of experts will tackle a major challenge facing the water industry: predicting endurance and mechanical strength retention of plastic components after extended use -- typically 15 years or more. By developing plastics that address these challenges, GE aims to support customers with materials that are durable, cost-effective, light and therefore energy-efficient, resistant to corrosion and lead-free.
For example, the replacement of metal water-handling components with engineered thermoplastics may deliver better performance and system cost savings. Or, these advanced materials may help eliminate the risks of corrosion and contamination with heavy metals associated with extended use of water filtration units in houses or underground. For swimming pools and spas that depend upon reliable pump operation, engineering thermoplastics can also replace complex and costly steel pump components such as housings, covers, brackets and impellers.
To determine the advantages and applicability of GE materials for the water industry, the Fluid Engineering Center is generating data regarding long-term performance of a variety of GE products, such as Noryl resin, Ultem resin, and LNP Verton and LNP Lubricomp compounds in fluid-handling components such as water pumps, pipe fittings, water meters, reverse osmosis vessels and sanitary faucets. The evaluation process includes testing of tensile strength retention; creep and fatigue in water over time to determine how well these materials can withstand exposure to water absorption; water pressure; and heat in applications like filtration systems. Other testing includes resistance to chlorinated water and contaminated water (containing sand or soil).
The center’s staff is also conducting research into new processing technologies and assembly techniques, such as vibration welding and laser welding, to meet the special requirements of fluid engineering applications. Concept engineers will design applications that take advantage of properties such as ease of part consolidation: for example, integrating several components formerly made of metal into one plastic component. The center’s virtual lab will communicate results directly to customers and other GE research centers around the world.
"The breadth of fluid engineering capabilities concentrated in one facility makes this center a unique resource to serve our customers," said Frank Heessels, leader of GE Advanced Materials’ Fluid Engineering Center of Excellence. "GE’s advanced materials technologies are already making a difference in water provisioning. Noryl resins are used widely in water meter components and pump impellers, thanks to their low water absorption and dimensional stability that provide better accuracy and performance."
From GE’s LNP Specialty Compounds family, LNP Lubricomp graphite-filled compounds are an excellent match for water applications such as water meter pistons due to their abrasion and wear resistance, hydrolytic and dimensional stability, and low coefficient of friction.