Filtralite® is the registered trademark of all expanded clay products used as filter media manufactured by Leca (a Saint Gobain subsidiary company) in their Raellingen plant (Norway). We talk with Kim Rosenbom, Director of Marketing and Innovation at Leca International, to learn more about this brand and the company it belongs to.
Question - Firstly, Mr Rosenbom, we would like to know about your career path up to your current position.
Answer - I have an academic background in Material Science, with a Master degree from the Technical University of Denmark. My career started in Portugal, where I worked in a consulting firm and in the University of Porto. I first learned about expanded clay in Portugal, and I realised right then that this material had countless applications, especially in the water treatment sector. I have worked with expanded clay for almost 20 years, being involved in R&D processes, in product development, and marketing. I started at the local level in Portugal, becoming responsible for international projects later on. Nowadays I am the Director of Marketing and Innovation at Leca International (Saint Gobain Group), the largest producer of expanded clay in Europe. LECA International is producing expanded clay under the brand names Leca® LWA, FIBO® y Arlita® for the construction and infrastructure market in Europe. And we use the Filtralite® brand for our international water and air treatment business.
Q - Filtralite is a brand of Leca, which belongs to the Saint Gobain group. How does the Filtralite® project fit with Leca's activities?
A - The strategy of LECA International focuses on three areas: housing, infrastructure and water management. The two first ones are the classical lines of business of LECA International, whereas water management is our most modern line of business, and given the outstanding performance of our products, it is where there is more potential for growth in the future. As mentioned earlier, Filtralite® is the brand we use for water management/treatment applications. In our website you can find the scope of application of our products, success stories, case studies, etc.
Q - What are the main lines of business and markets for Filtralite®? How do you stand out from competitors?
A - Our FILTRALITE business focuses on four technical areas: drinking water (Filtralite® PURE), waste water and industrial applications (Filtralite® CLEAN), natural solutions (Filtralite® NATURE) and air filtration (Filtralite® AIR). Our filtrating media have been designed specifically for physical and/or biological filtration, with the following strengths, which other media cannot match: increased water production (higher filtration rate), lower energy consumption and backwash rates, and substantial improvement in effluent quality. Simply put, more and better-quality water, at a lower cost
Q - R&D is key to compete in an evolving market such as the water sector. What new technologies and solutions does Filtralite® offer to meet this challenge?
A - Investing in innovation is key for us, in order to improve the existing solutions and develop new products that can help our clients produce more water, at a lower cost, and obtain a better quality. A large portion of the R&D investment is assigned to projects linked to Filtralite®, and many of the initiatives take place at universities in each of the countries we are based in. We also do some tests in our own facilities, but I firmly believe in the participation of experts from each country we work in, in order to address the needs and specificities of each market in an efficient manner.
An example of this are our Filtralite® MonoMulti and MonoMulti Fine products, impressive dual media filters, with an outstanding performance when compared with traditional sand or sand-anthracite beds. With these media, we are currently working intensely in the desalination sector, given the high performance of our filter media to pretreat water before reverse osmosis.
'Our FILTRALITE business focuses on four technical areas: drinking water (Filtralite® PURE), waste water and industrial applications (Filtralite® CLEAN), natural solutions (Filtralite® NATURE) and air filtration (Filtralite® AIR)'
Heavy metals and micro-plastics are contaminants found in urban run-off and also in our drinking water sources and reservoirs. Our R&D team focuses much of their work on developing solutions to remove them. One of our objectives is launching in 2019 a new line of products for heavy metal removal.
In essence, we have new products and technical solutions for key problems and sectors, and I firmly believe that our R&D efforts will meet the needs of a sector that needs innovation and better solutions in order to tackle the challenges ahead: water scarcity, new regulations, reducing energy consumption, improving treatment quality, etc.
Q - As experts in filtration, what are the main challenges you face in this area?
A - The potable water demand is increasing in our planet, as a result of population growth. You just have to read the news or visit the United Nations website to learn about the social and economic reasons why we must take action. Higher water needs do not only involve human consumption; we have to take into account all potential demands and improve how we use and reuse water in industry or agriculture.
As we said previously, the Filtralite® media can treat more water for less money and obtain a better quality. However, I am cautious when it comes to, in the short term, getting all stakeholders to join efforts towards a common goal and make the necessary changes. For example, in some countries outside the EU water regulations and guidelines are outdated or they are not adapted to local circumstances, hindering change and the application of innovating solutions.
Q - Could you highlight some of your company's significant projects in the water sector?
A - Filtralite® has been in use for two decades in water treatment systems of countries with a leading water sector; we have a solid reputation with a large number of successful cases across the world. In the Filtralite website you can find some of our flagship projects, both with Filtralite® PURE, as well as with Filtralite® CLEAN and NATURE.
As an example — given its size and the great research and development effort undertaken — I would mention the drinking water treatment plants for Thames Water in London. The purpose of the project was to increase water production and improve its quality with a low operating cost: the implementation of Filtralite® Mono Multi was a great success. Another interesting case study is the Taipo drinking water treatment plant in Hong Kong, where a biological treatment was used to remove ammonia and manganese in a plant producing more than one million cubic metres per day. In Spain we are increasing our presence in the drinking water treatment sector, replacing sand and anthracite, and also in the biological removal of nitrates. In addition, we are very active in industrial water and pretreatment prior to desalination.
Q - Finally, let us look at the future. What are the main challenges for your company?
A - Water management is one of the areas of strategic development for LECA International. In the coming years we expect to increase our total turnover more than 20% in this sector, based on market growth, and our approach: promoting and developing new solutions, and increasing investment in R&D. As well, we are strengthening our water management competences in each of the countries where we are based, particularly in Spain. At the same time, we are currently creating a network of strategic partners in Asia, the Middle East and North America. South America is also one of the strategic areas we target for expansion; in fact, we already have projects in Ecuador since 2018. However, we want to increase our presence in the region gradually, and introduce ourselves as the filtration solution to increase filtration capacity, improve effluent quality, and reduce operating costs.
The planet needs more and better-quality water, and the Filtralite® filter media will be part of the solution. We are firmly resolved to continue improving our solutions and strengthen our presence in the water market, so the future is interesting and promising for Filtralite®.