Today an international, publicly-listed company with more than 1,000 employees and almost S$1 billion in revenue last year, Hyflux launched in 1989 with S$20,000 of start-up capital fronted by the company’s founder, Olivia Lum, who is today the company’s executive chairman and group chief executive officer.
Lum tells Future Ready Singapore in a recent interview that “Hyflux’s dream is to improve and transform improve people’s lives through sustainable technology and constant innovation”.
In its early days as a startup, Hyflux—then known as Hydrochem—was a distributor for filtration membranes, which are used in industrial and municipal water treatment.
But over the years, the company researched into the possibility of developing its own proprietary membranes, believing the technology would differentiate it from competitors. The result of this was an innovation known as the Kristal hollow-fibre ultrafiltration membrane, a technology that is used by Hyflux to this date.
Since Hyflux first unveiled its Kristal membranes, it has developed seven generations of the technology to date, and also become Singapore’s first publicly listed water treatment company in 2001.
The membranes are used in some of the world’s largest desalination plants today, such as the Magtaa Desalination Plant in Algeria and the Tianjin Dagang Desalination Plant in China.
Hyflux’s research centres have also produced several other technologies and systems for use in the food and beverage industry, mining, steel and metal production, among others.
Examples of this include a stainless steel membrane called FerroCep, which makes it possible to remove grease from wastewater using less chemicals and energy than conventional solutions; and PoroCep, a plastic-based membrane that helps save energy and reduce costs throughout a wastewater plant’s lifecycle.
Even after more than 2 decades, innovation remains a central focus for Hyflux, whose headquarters are known as the Hyflux Innovation Centre, where the company continues to pursue research and development.
Even as it consolidated its presence in Singapore’s water sector, Hyflux started expanding far beyond Singapore’s shores in the early 1990s. It has offices in China and India today, and has built several desalination plants in Middle Eastern and North African countries such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
“Making clean water accessible and sustainable will continue to form the core of Hyflux’s businesses for the next five years, and beyond,” says Lum, who sees many opportunities on the horizon as Asia experiences rapid economic, urban, and population growth, pointing to growing demand for water for industrial and residential uses.
Recycled water and desalination can help cope with Asia’s water stresses in a sustainable and cost efficient way, says Lum. Her optimistic outlook is compounded by stricter regulations on wastewater discharge in many countries, which will force companies to invest in treating industrial wastewater more effectively.