Clean water is important for many industries, and the pharmaceutical sector is no exception. Safe, effective medicine needs contaminant-free water, so drugmakers must ensure their filtration systems work well. Even with these high requirements, though, there are many filter types for pharmaceuticals to choose from.
While municipal water is sufficient for the vast majority of people, it doesn’t meet pharma’s high standards. Some water may be safe enough to drink but still have contaminants that affect the active ingredients in a vaccine or other medication. Considering how any mistakes in this industry can endanger people’s health, going the extra mile to get clean water is crucial.
Here’s a look at eight of the best filter types for pharmaceuticals.
1. Nanofiltration Membranes
Nanofiltration is one of the most popular and effective methods. These filters pass water through membranes with microscopic pores, sometimes less than 2 nanometers in diameter. While water molecules are small enough to pass through these pores, many other nano-scale contaminants get caught in the membrane.
The idea behind nanofiltration is relatively simple, but the technology itself is not. The membranes often use high-tech materials like nanocellulose that can remove microbes and even viruses from water, which can be difficult to manufacture. As technology advances, though, these systems are becoming increasingly affordable and accessible.
Nanofiltration is also less energy-intensive than many other methods since it doesn’t require much pressure or movement. As a result, it can help pharma companies become more sustainable and cost-effective.
2. Magnetic Filters
Magnetic filtration is a less common filter type, especially outside of pharmaceuticals. As you might expect from the name, these systems use magnets to remove iron and other heavy metals from water.
Magnetic filters don’t affect water flow, so they can deliver results quickly and without disruption. They also have little to no energy requirements, helping reduce costs and improve sustainability, and are easy to clean. Pharmaceutical companies can also take the metals these systems remove and send them to recycling centers to minimize waste.
Magnetic filters are just one step in a series of filtration methods in most pharmaceutical applications. That’s because they don’t remove all contaminants, including some metals. For example, manganese, which has several adverse health effects, is nonmagnetic. However, magnetic filtration is an excellent first step.
3. Reverse Osmosis Systems
A more familiar filter type you’ll see in pharmaceuticals is reverse osmosis. Like nanofiltration, reverse osmosis passes water through membranes with microscopic pores. However, this process uses even finer membranes that remove more contaminants and often involves several stages.
Reverse osmosis is one of the most effective filtration techniques, removing up to 99.5% of contaminants from feedwater. It also removes some beneficial minerals, which may not be the best for drinking water, but it is ideal for pharmaceuticals. Most pharma applications need water in its purest form possible, and reverse osmosis provides that.
Reverse osmosis is extremely effective, but it can also be expensive. The upfront costs for this sophisticated equipment are high, and maintenance can be difficult, too. However, labs that can reasonably afford and manage it have much to gain from these systems.
4. Ultraviolet Purification Systems
Ultraviolet (UV) is another effective and popular filter type for pharmaceuticals. As the name implies, these systems use UV light to kill microbes and break down other contaminants. This used to involve low-pressure mercury bulbs, but most solutions now use other technologies like LED lights to avoid mercury’s toxicity.
One of the most significant advantages of UV purification is that it doesn’t affect water flow. It also achieves a high level of sterilization without needing any chemical additives. As a result, labs can purify their water quickly and effectively without changing the chemical makeup of the fluid itself.
One downside to UV purification is that it won’t remove the contaminants it kills. You need a secondary filter to remove the microbes and solutions that the UV light killed and broke apart. That can add to the process time and complexity, but secondary filtering is common practice in pharmaceuticals anyway.
5. Bag Filters
Some pharmaceutical companies use bag filters to clean their water. These systems involve a bag made from felt or another porous material that water flows through. The bag catches and holds any contaminants as the water passes through, much like membrane-based filtration such as reverse osmosis or nanofiltration.
Bag filters typically have a much higher capacity than membranes, so they’re ideal for handling large water volumes. They’re also remarkably cost-efficient, as they can last several cycles before needing replacements, and replacement bags are often affordable.
Pore size can vary widely in bag filters, so pharmaceutical companies must be sure to use the right bags. These systems also typically don’t filter out the smallest contaminants, so they may be best suited as the first step in a larger process.
One of the more sophisticated filtration technologies pharma companies use is an agitated nutsche filter/dryer (ANFD). These machines consist of several filters and an agitator that work together to separate solid contaminants from water or other liquids.
ANFDs are closed systems that handle many hazardous materials and conditions, making them ideal for lab work. They also typically have high volumes, which can improve cost efficiency and output. You can also adjust temperatures, pressure and other factors to fit multiple scenarios better.
Unlike most filter types on this list, ANFDs typically aim to reclaim solids instead of purifying water. As a result, not every pharmaceutical company will need one, but they’re one of the best solutions for this fairly common process.
7. Ceramic Filters
Ceramic filters are a far less high-tech alternative, but they can still provide impressive results. These systems work similarly to membrane solutions, but they pass water through tiny holes in the ceramic instead of a semi-permeable membrane. Manufacturers typically coat them in colloidal silver to maximize their antimicrobial properties.
These systems are made of low-cost ceramics, making them one of the most affordable solutions available. Despite their relative simplicity, they’ve proven effective against bacteria and protozoans, all without chemical additives.
Ceramic filters remove most larger contaminants, but viruses and other smaller microbes can pass through them. Consequently, they’re not sufficient by themselves for pharmaceutical applications. However, like magnetic filters, they can serve as a cost-effective first step and often appear within larger filtration systems.
8. Self-Cleaning Filters
All filters lose efficacy over time due to contaminant buildup, requiring regular cleaning. Consequently, self-cleaning filters are ideal for use cases like pharmaceuticals with a high effectiveness standard. They are available in many forms, from nanofiltration to bag filters, as they’re not technically a filtration technology but an added, albeit critical, feature.
There are two primary methods for self-cleaning filters: direct flushing and backflushing. Direct flushing systems spray water directly at the filter, washing the contaminant layer off. By contrast, backflushing reverses the normal flow of a system, removing impurities from the filter using the same technology that initially pushed contaminated water through.
Adding self-cleaning features to filtration systems means higher upfront costs, but it pays for itself over time. The savings labs can achieve from these systems can make a considerable difference when factoring in increased uptime from quicker cleaning.
Filter Types for Pharmaceuticals Vary Widely
Pharma may have high standards, but many technologies today can meet them. Companies may prefer to combine multiple methods for the best possible results. However, even if they just use one, various filter types for pharmaceuticals are available for any business’s unique needs and circumstances.