Founders Interviews: Greg Newbloom of Membrion

Indico Capital Partners
6 min readApr 1, 2024

Our Founders Interview this month is with Membrion’s Founder and CEO, Greg Newbloom.

Membrion manufactures ceramic desalination membranes that can recover up to 98% of water in the harshest conditions. Membrion’s flexible, electro-ceramic desalination membranes yield endless possibilities for water recovery, allowing manufacturers to recycle water at previously inaccessible pH ranges and with challenging trace chemicals. The membranes that Membrion creates are low fouling, require less cleaning, are oxidizer resistant, have ultra-low pH stability, and are economical.

First, can you tell us about your professional background and the path that lead you to Membrion?

So, I’m a chemical engineer by training. I did my undergraduate degree at Oregon State and then did a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Washington. I was always really interested in math and science but as a kid I was also very interested in entrepreneurship. I started my first business when I was 10 and into my teen years was always trying to find ways — with odd jobs and such — to build businesses and make some money. So I think for me a lot of finding my way to Membrion was actually connecting my interest from a professional side, which was in the engineering, to something that I just really loved and enjoyed which was the entrepreneurial efforts. For me, it feels like a connection of those two parts.

And how was Membrion born?

We were initially trying to solve a problem with membranes that exist for batteries. All batteries have membrane materials that get used and they must survive really harsh environments, and there was a particular type of battery that we were trying to work on and improve that had a very limited availability of membranes. So, we were trying to create a material that could withstand these really harsh environments but still have very high performance. Knowing that ceramic materials could handle really harsh environments, we were able to look at basically what materials might be able to survive these environments but also perform, and we stumbled across the silica gel desiccant that you find in shoe boxes and such to keep things dry and that’s actually what ultimately inspired the membrane technology. It turns out those little silica beads are very good at absorbing water because they have molecular sized pores, and so we were able to figure out how to make a membrane out of the material that had those molecule size pores. It initially worked really well in batteries, but we found that the application was actually much broader and there was a stronger need for it in the water treatment space, which is ultimately how we ended up where we’re at today.

How is your product different from others in the market? What makes it unique?

Ceramic materials, the type of material we make our membranes out of, have been around for a long time in the membrane world. The challenge with them is they’re all much bigger pore sizes and so they are meant to filter out larger things — particles, viruses, things like that — and for us we needed to filter ions, which is the smallest of the small things that you can filter. So, existing ceramics weren’t an option. At the size scale that we work with we are typically competing against polymeric membranes and those membranes generally have the right pore size, but they tend to be very delicate, meaning they can’t go into really complex environments and so often what ends up happening is to use these membranes you have to have multiple pre-treatment steps in front to protect them from those environments. What we figured out with the ceramic materials is that our biggest differentiator is that we just don’t require those multiple pre-treatment steps. We’re able to handle the waters directly which gives us a major cost and performance advantage.

Would you say that legislation has played a big role in widespread adoption of solutions such as your own? Do you often take regulatory changes into consideration?

They absolutely help. I would say that regulatory changes often are one of the things that motivate our customers. For example, an industrial wastewater plant that’s been running for a long time and all of a sudden, the regulations change and their process is no longer able to produce compliance wastewater. So yes, I would say that regulatory changes can definitely be helpful, they’re very motivating. They force customers to adopt solutions faster than they might otherwise do so just on their own motivation, but I would say by and large, a lot of the drivers for our technology go beyond regulations. Facilities that are struggling to operate at capacity, labor shortages with these kind of processes that take a lot of hands-on time and other things like that, where we have some intrinsic advantages to competitors.

If you could go back in time, is there anything you’d do differently?

One of the things that I think we did really well to start was building a great team. I think that that’s really what helped us to get to the stage that we’re at. I think the big thing that I would have done differently is, having a broader perspective of what the technology could accomplish and moving closer to our customers sooner would have been good. Initially, when we formed Membrion, the idea was that we had a new membrane technology, we knew how to make membranes. So we were basically going to do what we were good at and build partners and things like that to help deploy the technology effectively. What we found is that finding a partner that is as motivated to “be successful” as we are is very hard, especially when we’re in the early stages and partners don’t necessarily want to take on that level of risk with their customers. So I think one of the things that we’ve learned to do is to go all the way to the end user of the technology because they’re the ones that ultimately are going to see the biggest value and the biggest impact from what we’re doing, and we may have to figure out how to do things that maybe we’re not experts at, but that direct interface with the end user I think has been absolutely critical for us. If I could go back in time, that’s one of the things that I would do sooner, is instead of focusing on building partnerships to access end users, I would have gone directly to end users and then built the partnerships necessary to reach them. With just a little bit of a different order of who we would have gone out to I think we would have moved faster.

Do you feel that satisfaction for making a positive environmental impact is a key driver of motivation within yourself and your team?

Yeah, absolutely. I think that that’s one the best parts of the job. Being an entrepreneur is hard, it’s long hours, there’s lots of disappointments that come, and I think that within all of that kind of what motivates you is really critical. Fus, the impact that the technology has and the things that we can accomplish with our customers is really motivating. Certainly from an environmental standpoint we’re finding that a lot of people are wanting to be able to work in an environment that goes beyond just producing something. They want to work and have that impact at the same time. So I think that for us that helps us a lot with recruitment because we can offer both that impact and just the general job satisfaction.

What’s next for Membrion?

I think we’re at a really exciting point in time right now where we’re getting our first commercial systems installed and up and running and so we’re actually just about to turn on our first full commercial project. We’ve also got more that we’re delivering towards getting installed later this year, and so we’re kind of at this really critical moment where we’ve proven the technology work, it’s now getting installed, and now we’re starting to help and support those full commercial installations. For us a lot of it is continuing to ensure that those first deployments are successful and then continuing to build more of those as we go.