NX Filtration: Ready to conquer the world
NX Filtration, based in Enschede, already has a number of big names among its clients, including Pepsi, the French waste-management giant Veolia and the water company PWN. However, it now seems that this is just the beginning of a bright future in the world of water treatment. “But our roots are here in Twente”, says CEO Michiel Staatsen.
The bone-dry summers of 2019 and 2020 caused drinking-water supply shortages in Twente. This provided NX Filtration’s Erik Roesink (Founder and CTO) and Michiel Staatsen (CEO) with an opportunity to showcase their ground-breaking water purification technology. They demonstrated that it’s much easier, cheaper and more sustainable to purify water from the Twente Canal using their method, than taking it all the way from the IJsselmeer by pipeline.
“We work with all kinds of enthusiastic people who are deeply involved in the subject matter, so it all makes perfect sense to us. But that does not apply to everyone”, says Staatsen. “Very few people in north-west Europe realise that issues with water scarcity and quality are going to get worse. However, the dry summers did help to raise awareness about this.”
Hollow fibre membranes
The enthusiastic people Staatsen refers to are the sixty or so employees at two locations in Enschede who work daily on the production, development and marketing of so-called hollow-fibre membranes. This is a unique type of filter that in a single step stops not only bacteria and viruses, but also much smaller particles, such as pesticides, medicine residues, hormones and PFAS chemicals. And when compared to other purification techniques, it does this in a much more energy-efficient way and without using chemicals.
The speed at which the dirty water becomes drinking-quality water is amazing. A purification plant consists of several tubes, so-called membrane modules, with a diameter of 20 centimetres. One such tube, which contains the membranes, can purify 1,000 to 2,000 litres of water per hour. Staatsen: “A small water treatment plant, like the one recently set up in Indonesia, has hundreds or thousands of these modules.”
Time for the stock market
What makes the technology unique are the nanolayers that Roesink (Professor of Membrane Technology) developed at the University of Twente (UT). In 2016, he decided to set up NX Filtration with UT as co-owner. Staatsen, who exchanged the metropolitan west for rural Twente twenty years ago, joined in 2019. In June this year, the company went public. Thanks to the capital raised, as well as the international attention that this has generated, it is now possible to scale up to the level of a global player.
Staatsen: “Our customers are already located all over the world, often in areas where problems with water are much more visible. We do a lot in Asia, where there is a shortage of drinking water in rapidly-growing cities. But we also work in areas that traditionally suffer from water scarcity, such as parts of South Africa.”
30-times larger production capacity
By the end of the year, he wants to have quadrupled capacity. The plan is to expand the current two locations in Enschede within two years with a third in Hengelo, which will employ between 250 and 300 people. NX Filtration will then be able to produce 30 times more membranes than it does today.
The selection of Twente is clearly a deliberate one. “Not only were we founded here, but our suppliers and of course the university are based here too”, says Staatsen. “At UT, there is an important department that is very good at membrane technology. For us, this is an essential source of knowledge, cooperation and future colleagues. But we also work with other, mostly foreign universities. We have people here from South Africa, from India. Just recently, someone moved here from Madrid.”
Although NX Filtration’s base is in Enschede, the next step in the growth process will take the company further abroad to where the market is developing the fastest, such as Asia or North America. But we’re not that far yet. Staatsen and his colleagues are now extremely busy trying to win over interested companies. They do this by showing the operation of the purification equipment ‘live’ to potential customers all over the world. “It’s not like we can sit at the fax machine and watch the orders come in. It takes a lot of energy and persuasiveness to sell a new technology.”
This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by the Municipality of Enschede, aimed at entrepreneurs who are finding their way abroad. We like to highlight articles about entrepreneurs who are located at Kennispark.