Water research body to get $132m in funds

Grace Chua Straits Times 4 May 13;

THE institute researching ways to improve Singapore's water systems is to receive $132 million in new funding.

The Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (Newri) made the announcement yesterday as it opened a new base and laboratory at Jurong West's CleanTech Park. The lab will look for low-energy ways to treat water, deal with waste and solve related environment problems.

Part of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the institute is to get the investment from industry, public agencies and research grants from funding bodies.

NTU president Bertil Andersson said the money will fund its work in water management, membrane technology, waste and other applications.

The sum brings the five-year-old institute's total funding to $400 million until the end of 2016 - though Newri did not say what proportion of the $132 million will come from each source.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, the guest of honour at the event, said water "has always been an existential issue for us in Singapore" and that providing the energy needed to treat it is a major factor. "Short of a breakthrough in energy," he said, "the only thing we have left is energy efficiency."

Technologies such as those inspired by nature that can reduce the energy needed to clean water are vital, he added.

Newri, which was previously located at NTU's campus in Jurong West, has so far produced five start-up companies including Aquaporin Asia, which develops membranes with embedded proteins that mimic the way kidneys filter water.

It also collaborates with multinational firms and smaller enterprises such as home-grown Eco-Wiz, which markets small digesters that hotels and restaurants can use to turn food waste into compost.

NTU to receive S$132m over next 3 years for water research institute
Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 3 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE: Over the next three years, the Nanyang Technological University will be getting another S$132 million for its water research institute, bringing its total funding to about S$400 million by the end of 2016.

The funds are from the government, as well as multinational corporations and small and medium enterprises, signalling closer collaboration with industry.

Sewage and industrial wastewater may not seem that different to the layman.

But researchers have said industrial wastewater normally contains waste that is specific to the industry, which then requires specialised treatment systems.

The new wave in water purification techniques now is how to refine biomimetic membranes - said to be the next generation of membranes which are based on proteins.

The challenge for researchers is how to lower energy consumption in the process of purifying water.

Professor Ng Wun Jern, executive director of the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute (NEWRI), said: "Ironically, to treat wastewater - because it needs energy to do so - there is in fact an impact on the environment. So if you are going to use a lot of energy to treat wastewater, then on the one hand, you save the world by producing cleaner water, but on the other hand, you may cause some damage because of the energy footprint.

"So the challenge now is how do we treat industrial wastewater adequately and yet be able to do it with as little energy as is possible, and ideally perhaps even to recover energy from the industrial wastewater."

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said: "We have translated a vulnerability in terms of access to water basically into now, a question of energy because with reverse osmosis, as long as I have energy, I can produce water, so water per se is not the limiting factor, but energy is.

"And short of a breakthrough in new renewable and cheap and plentiful energy... the only thing we have left to rely on is energy efficiency. And that is why biomimetic membranes are going to be crucial.

"This combination of academia and industry in the real world space where there are real demands and needs... is an example of translating what was a strategic vulnerability into a global opportunity, and that is why this is so important."

Professor Ng added: "The future would increasingly belong to systems that mimic nature more and more. So on the one hand, we will continue to work on engineering systems because we have to be relevant to the economy now, but at the same time, we will put part of our efforts to look into systems that mimic nature, and this could probably be ready for applications perhaps in 10 to 15 years' time."

NEWRI has also moved into its new premises at JTC CleanTech Park, a business park catered to green firms.

- CNA/xq/ms